Citizens Tell Governor Grain Belt Express Not A Public Utility

January 19, 2019

Kidder, Mo. – In a letter sent to Governor Parson this week, citizens group Block Grain Belt Express Missouri advises that Grain Belt Express is not a public utility under state law and cannot be granted a permit to build a high voltage transmission line through Missouri. The granting of a permit by the Missouri Public Service Commission (PSC) would enable the company to exercise eminent domain for 95 percent of its route through eight northern Missouri counties. In testimony during December’s PSC hearing, GBE’s witness informed that it had voluntarily acquired only 39 of the required 739 easements needed across private property in the state.

“Utilities that do not serve the public do not qualify as a “public use” deserving of eminent domain authority,” said Russ Pisciotta, President of Block GBE.

The missive to the Governor warned of possible issues with federal rate authority if the project is purchased by wind energy giant Invenergy, which owns substantial generation assets that could benefit from a private electric highway across Midwestern states. Grain Belt Express will also not serve all customers equally, the group says, making it unlike other Missouri public utilities.

“We look forward to working with the Governor as we continue to fight to protect landowner’s property rights from a private company seeking eminent domain authority,” said Rep. Jim Hansen.

The Missouri Landowners Alliance has thoroughly briefed the public utility issue at the PSC last week, linking state law with legal precedent to determine that the PSC has no authority to issue a transmission permit to an entity that is not a public utility and won’t fully submit to PSC jurisdiction.

Block GBE ended its letter thanking the Governor for his support of agriculture, and with a plea for his help to preserve their businesses, homes, and communities.

Background: Grain Belt Express is a 750-mile overhead high-voltage transmission line proposed to be built from southwestern Kansas through Missouri, and has previously been rejected by the PSC twice.

Letter to Governor Parson:

Dear Governor Parson,

On behalf of Missouri agricultural producers comprising nearly 100,000 family farms, concerned citizens, and taxpayers, I know you understand our interests and want to preserve the number one industry in Missouri today. In fact, as our Governor you have been quoted as saying, “To prepare the next generation of Missourians who will be a part of this industry, we must unite and focus on important issues that matter to all of us."

Farming and agriculture are threatened by the proposed private use, merchant transmission line, Grain Belt Express Clean Line (GBE). This line is currently proposed to cross through eight Missouri counties, and if approved would set a terrible precedent that will sacrifice our state’s agricultural heritage, and its future, for the benefit of out-of-state energy speculators.

Most folks affected by the project did not become aware of it until late 2013, however the company had been working behind the scenes to gain support from county governments and legislators since 2011. In fact, the company’s Houston-based CEO has bragged that getting local governments on board before affected landowners find out about a project gives the people nowhere to turn for help. Since 2013, grassroots opposition to GBE has grown like wildfire, with membership in opposition groups numbering in the thousands. These citizens have worked diligently through the legal processes to block GBE for more than five years, spending hundreds of thousands of dollars of their hard earned money simply to preserve their homes, businesses, and local economies from investment speculators from other states who seek to gain riches at our expense. Landowners don’t seek to gain if they win, they will merely be awarded the right to continue to live their lives and run their agricultural businesses unencumbered.

The Missouri Public Service Commission has now denied two applications filed by GBE, but yet the company persists. The Missouri Supreme Court, at the request of GBE and former Governor Nixon, remanded the last denial back to the PSC. In the interim, GBE’s owners have signed a contract to sell the transmission project to out-of-state wind energy generation company Invenergy. Evidentiary hearings on the remand concluded in December and once briefing has completed this month, a decision could be made at any time.

If approved by the PSC, the GBE private electric transmission company would have the same status as a Missouri utility company to take private property for its own use through eminent domain. However, GBE is not at all similar to our state public utilities that serve all customers equally. As originally created, GBE intended to sell transmission service at negotiated rates under federal supervision that would prevent self-dealing and unfair bidding. GBE owned no generation interests that could receive undue preference and therefore received federal authority to begin negotiations. While GBE received approval of its negotiation plan from the federal government, that authority cannot pass to Invenergy without federal approval. Invenergy owns substantial wind generation assets in Kansas and Oklahoma, near the starting point of GBE. Without federal supervision, Invenergy may favor its own generation interests while selling transmission service on GBE, and Invenergy may use GBE to serve only its own generation interests in other states, turning GBE into a private highway through Missouri that does not serve the public. Furthermore, under different federal rules, Invenergy’s private generation tie transmission line could be protected from a public use by Missouri utilities or generators.

Utilities that do not serve the public do not qualify as a “public use” deserving of eminent domain authority. However, GBE and Invenergy have stated in PSC testimony that the company will need to exercise eminent domain on 700 properties in Missouri immediately upon approval of the PSC. GBE needs easements on 739 properties in Missouri and has only secured 39 voluntarily, requiring the use of eminent domain on 95% of its route across the state. The companies propose to begin condemning property before their project is approved in other states, and before they find enough customers to financially support its construction. Invenergy plans to undertake condemnation first, while maintaining the option to change the route, need, and purpose of its project later. We urge great caution here, for condemnation cannot be easily undone if Invenergy later changes GBE into its private electric delivery highway through Missouri.

GBE has been proposing the same old, outdated, overhead line technology for the past ten years. New technology can make burial alongside existing public rights-of-way possible, such as along highways. Burial of GBE along highways would provide much needed lease revenue for MO DOT to improve our roadways, without new taxes for our citizens, and eliminate eminent domain on private property.

We are pleading with you as our Governor to please help us preserve our agriculture in Missouri. We are not against progress or renewable energy, but we do object to granting eminent domain authority to a private business for its own profit. GBE is not guaranteed to provide any future benefit to Missouri and could end up transporting energy produced in other states to the west across Missouri for use by other states to the east. Eminent domain authority awarded to a speculative, private venture will permanently damage our agricultural businesses. For example, crops grown under the proposed line must be less than 10 feet high, making corn production impossible in fields crossed by the project. As a result, how can we expect those in agriculture to carry this burden when every bushel counts for our livelihood?

Thank you for your support of agricultural interests. We hope you share our concerns about condemnation by a non-public utility and will strive to take whatever action is within your power to make sure Missouri property owners are sufficiently protected from Grain Belt Express.