Library from Missouri
JEFFERSON CITY – Different sides reacted Wednesday to the Missouri Supreme Court's ruling in favor of a wind energy project.
A long-stalled proposal for a multi-state electric transmission line was thrown a lifeline Tuesday, when the Missouri Supreme Court unanimously ruled that state regulators erred in rejecting the project based on a controversial legal precedent.
The $2.3 billion project would carry power harnessed from the wind-whipped plains of western Kansas on a 780-mile (1,255 kilometer) trek across Missouri and Illinois before hooking into an electric grid in Indiana that serves the eastern U.S.
The state’s Office of Public Counsel and the staff of the Missouri Public Service Commission are skeptical. They don’t trust Empire’s estimates of the future price of wind on the wholesale market, and they maintain that the utility has structured the deal so that the tax-equity investor – as yet unnamed – will be paid off during the first 10 years, leaving only crumbs behind for ratepayers.
It's one of the longest transmission lines proposed in the U.S. But it was rejected last year by Missouri utility commissioners whom Nixon appointed. The state Public Service Commission cited a state appeals court ruling in a separate case that determined a utility first must get approval from local governments to string power lines across roads before the state regulatory commission can grant permission.
Ex-Missouri governor urges court to allow wind-energy line
The company plans to pursue an equity partnership that would take advantage of $800 million in federal tax incentives for the project, making Empire's total investment $700 million. Empire would also retire its coal-fired plant in Asbury more than 15 years early.
Grain Belt Express may move forward, but the U.S. onshore wind industry still needs lots of new transmission. A contested 780-mile Midwestern transmission line for wind, the Grain Belt Express Clean Line, may have another chance at life. A Missouri judge ruled recently that the state’s utility commission “erred” in denying the project, putting a final decision in the hands of the state Supreme Court.
With the proposed multi-state wind energy transmission line, Grain Belt Express, held up over controversial interpretations of Missouri law, prospective developers of the project have pushed for the case to go before the state Supreme Court.
The process of laying groundwork for development of a new wind energy project in northern Nodaway County continued Friday as representatives from Tenaska Inc., an Omaha, Nebraska-based independent power producer, met with the Nodaway County Commission in an effort to iron out road and infrastructure issues associated with turbine installation.
Experts say that building wind farms is the easy part. Far bigger complications arise when it comes to building transmission to distribute the energy produced — challenges that are on full display in Missouri.
Natelle Dietrich, PSC staff director, said in testimony filed Wednesday that Empire's customers will see little of the savings Empire has said the plan will generate in the first 10 years "while the equity partners achieve their anticipated returns, and after 10 years, the expected savings for customers are extremely uncertain."
A Missouri Courts of Appeals is being asked to find a peer court’s decision involving an electric line project erroneous that subsequently was used to deny necessary permits for an even more controversial electric project — the Grain Belt Express.
Empire's filing requests permission for a $1.5 billion project to construct wind turbines in Southwest Missouri and eventually close its Asbury power plant. The company plans to pursue an equity partnership that would take advantage of $800 million in federal tax incentives for the project, making Empire's total investment $700 million, according to its announcement.
In issuing the order, commission members said in part that the company had failed to prove that it had first obtained all necessary consent from counties along the project’s proposed route for road crossings. The PSC cited a Missouri Western District Court of Appeals decision in a separate, but recent, case pertaining to a proposed transmission line in northeast Missouri with regard to obtaining county-level permission.
Most members of Missouri’s regulatory panel said they, too, wanted to approve the high-profile project but felt compelled to vote against it because of a recent state appeals court ruling. The judges in that case said utilities must first get the consent of counties to string a power line across roads before state approval can be granted.
“We need to go back to a decision by the Western District (Court of Appeals),” PSC chairman Daniel Hall said. “This commission cannot certify a transmission line without assents from those counties the line traverses.”
A large number of people were present at the Kingston Courthouse on Thursday evening to voice their opinions on the subject of wind turbines in Caldwell County. Caldwell County currently has a moratorium on any applications on wind turbines until the first part of December.
The growth of wind farming in Missouri creates green energy and less dependence on out-of-state- coal. But the impacts of turbines and transmission lines may also spark neighbor-to-neighbor, farmer-to-government, and rural-to-urban tensions.