Missouri munis contract for 200 MW of space on proposed Grain Belt Express line

Dive Brief:

  • The Missouri Joint Municipal Electric Utility Commission has contracted for up to 200 MW of capacity on the Grain Belt Express transmission system being developed by Clean Line Energy Partners (CLEP). About 35 of the 67 members of the municipal utility group have committed to between 50 MW and 100 MW of the line’s capacity, and leaders say more contracts could follow. 
  • Grain Belt Express is a planned 780-mile high voltage direct current transmission system that would carry wind-generated electricity from western Kansas to Illinois, making the low-cost power available to the Midwest Intercontinental System Operator (MISO) and the PJM Interconnection.
  • The muni contract is expected to strengthen CLEP’s appeal to Missouri regulators to grant the developer power to obtain rights-of-way (ROW) by eminent domain. The commission rejected CLEP's first request because it found inadequate benefits to the state from the 4,000 MW capacity system.

Dive Insight:

Meant to deliver low-cost wind energy to load centers in the east, the Grain Belt Express has faced vocal opposition from rural landowners who say the project is unnecessary will lower property prices. 

After lengthy hearings and demonstrations, the Missouri Public Service Commission voted 3-2 in June 2015 to deny CLEP the special status necessary to exercise eminent domain to obtain right-of-ways for the transmission, though the company said it would only be utilized in situations where landowners would not cooperate with siting.

CLEP has already won approval for Grain Belt Express from commissions in Kansas, Indiana and Illinois. In the Missouri decision, commissioners recognized the transmission system’s value to Kansas and Illinois but argued it would do little other than pass through their state.

CLEP has since added a 500 MW substation in Missouri to allow the line to serve load in the state, upping the system’s potential value. Company president Michael Skelly said the muni contract demonstrates that despite low power prices in Missouri, there is a market for wind energy from Kansas. 

The new transmission contract will replace one for coal-fired power from Dynegy and is expected to save the municipal utilities $10 million/year, according to the Missouri Public Utility Alliance.

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