- Associated Press - Friday, June 3, 2016

ST. LOUIS (AP) - A group representing Missouri municipal utilities has signed up for space on a transmission line that would carry wind power from western Kansas across Missouri and further east, despite a state commission’s rejection of the proposed line.

The Missouri Joint Municipal Electric Utility Commission, which represents municipal utilities that pool their resources to buy power, said Thursday it signed an agreement for up to 200 megawatts of transmission space on the 780-mile Grain Belt Express line, The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported (https://bit.ly/288c3yk ).

The proposed $2.2 billion transmission line has been approved in Kansas, Indiana and Illinois but the Missouri Public Service Commission blocked the project last summer amid strong opposition from rural landowners who didn’t want to sell easements, citing concerns about crops, pastures and maneuvering large equipment around towers. Commission members said the project wouldn’t benefit Missouri ratepayers.

Texas-based Clean Line Energy, which is proposing the transmission line, has said it could deliver up to 500 megawatts of power in Missouri and would ship about 3,500 megawatts of electricity through the state to a grid further east, where prices are higher.

Clean Line President Michael Skelly said Thursday’s agreement would give Missouri municipal utilities “low-cost access to really the best wind resources in the country.”

“We heard the commission’s concerns loud and clear, and one of them was they wanted to know there were actual Missouri customers for the line, and we’ve now proven that out,” Skelly said.

The contract is contingent on the project being approved by Missouri regulators. It would replace an electricity contract with Dynegy coal plants set to expire in 2021, the year Grain Belt is supposed to be operational.

“From an analysis we have based on the offer they gave us, we believe it’s going to save us about $10 million annually,” said Ewell Lawson, who manages government relations and member services for the Missouri Public Utility Alliance.

Lawson said about 35 of the utility commission’s 67 members are part of the contract to procure from 50 to 100 megawatts of space, Lawson said, but more members could reserve space up to the 200 megawatts.

Skelly acknowledged many landowners will continue to oppose the project but said he’s hopeful the state will consider the line beneficial enough reconsider its stance.

“We’ve had opposition in the past and we may in the future,” Skelly said. “But we think this agreement is a very positive development for the project.”

The Grain Belt Express would transmit electricity from Dodge City, Kansas, across northern Missouri and Illinois to a substation in Sullivan, Indiana.

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Information from: St. Louis Post-Dispatch, https://www.stltoday.com

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