Wind energy company renews quest for approval
JEFFERSON CITY (AP) — A renewable energy company again faced opposition from landowners Monday as it tried for the second time to win one of the final pieces of regulatory approval needed to carry wind power east from the nation’s heartland over one of the country’s longest transmission lines.
Missouri utility regulators began hearing testimony on a request from Clean Line Energy to build a high-voltage transmission line from western Kansas across Missouri and Illinois to an Indiana power grid that connects with Eastern states. Along the way, the line also could supply power to the equivalent of 200,000 Missouri homes.
The Houston-based company already has won approval from other states for its 780-mile power line. But the Missouri Public Service Commission rejected its request in July 2015 while questioning its local benefit and the burden on landowners in its path.
So Clean Line Energy retooled its proposal and is trying again — this time, attempting to convince regulators of its need by lining up dozens of Missouri municipal utilities as customers and expanding landowner protections.
“What we propose today is a highway of steel to transmit low-cost renewable energy,” said Karl Zobrist, an attorney for Clean Line who is a former chairman of the Missouri Public Service Commission and past executive for the Indiana-based regional power transmission entity Midcontinent Independent System Operator Inc.
The power line, dubbed the Grain Belt Express, has come to highlight one of the toughest challenges for those seeking to nudge the nation toward a greater reliance on renewable energy. Although converting wind and sun into electricity is increasingly affordable, it can be difficult to gain the regulatory and legal approval necessary to carry the power from remote areas where it’s produced to the places where it’s needed most.
Other large-scale renewable energy projects in the Midwest, South and West also have faced denials or delays in transmission line approvals from federal and state regulators and courts.
Staff for the Missouri Public Service Commission — who make recommendations to the five-member regulatory panel — said Monday that they still cannot recommend approval for Clean Line’s project, but they also did not recommend its rejection. Staff questioned the need and public benefit and suggested that Missouri law requires Clean Line to first get the consent of each county it will cross before gaining state approval.
In another recent case, however, the Missouri regulatory commission granted permission for a power transmission line contingent on later getting approval from various counties.