Grain Belt Express garners Coal Free Mizzou support

Almost 200 students have signed Coal Free Mizzou’s letter to the Missouri Public Service Commission.

Coal Free Mizzou is collecting signatures for a letter written in support of the Grain Belt Express Clean Line project.

The project, planned by Houston-based energy firm Clean Line, seeks to construct a 750-mile-long direct current transmission line that will originate near Dodge City, Kan., and end near Sullivan, Ind.

Nearly 200 miles of the line will extend across northern Missouri, according to Clean Line.

Clean Line estimates that up to 3,500 megawatts of wind power generated in western Kansas would be delivered via the transmission line.

Coal Free Mizzou’s campaign began March 3, and it has since collected almost 200 signatures. Coal Free Mizzou President Sami Tellatin said she hopes to collect 1,000 signatures by March 25, before the letter is delivered to the Missouri Public Service Commission.

Allie Krus, junior and Coal Free Mizzou member, said she signed the letter for the environmental benefits of implementing the project.

“One of the main reasons (for my support) is to get Missouri off of coal,” she said. “Eighty percent of Missouri depends on coal for energy, and we have three major coal plants in the state. … To be able to use wind energy to harvest that power is crucial for Missouri.”

An environmental study by Clean Line estimates the project could potentially reduce carbon dioxide emmisions by more than 10 million tons annually.

Clean Line’s Director of Development Mark Lawlor said the firm would make an investment of up to $2 billion to implement the project, $500 million of which would be spent in Missouri.

“We’re going to be buying our components from (companies with plants in Missouri), like Hubbell Power Systems, General Cable and ABB,” he said. “We are creating Missouri manufacturing jobs, huge contracts for these companies and relying on local expertise and service providers for the construction.”

According to an economic impact study prepared for Clean Line, the construction of the transmission line could create nearly 4,000 construction jobs and 70 permanent jobs for maintaining and operating the line.

Lawlor estimates the project will add nearly $800,000 in property tax revenue for the affected counties.

Another economic benefit of the project, Lawlor said, is the potential to bring down energy costs in the 15 states, including Missouri, that the transmission line would affect.

“When we (introduce) about 500 megawatts of low-cost energy that wasn’t there before, the wholesale price (of utility) is naturally going to go down, and to an extent, that translates into savings for the consumers,” Lawlor said.

Not everyone in Missouri, particularly those who own land where the transmission line would be constructed, is convinced of the benefits.

Russ Pisciotta, president of Block Grain Belt Express, said he and his organization oppose the project because they do not believe there is enough reason to implement eminent domain.

“We don’t feel that there is enough reasons to justify the (use of) eminent domain, since it’s a project that isn’t going to improve Missouri,” Pisciotta said. “There is no guarantee that the companies (Clean Line) is contracting will actually make the components in Missouri. They have manufacturing plants all over the world.”

Pisciotta said he believes the claims made by Clean Line are not backed up with enough evidence and government studies.

“(Clean Line) is promising a lot of tax dollars … but the (Missouri Department of Revenue’s Taxation Division) has not come up with an assessment yet, so no one knows what the tax revenues will be yet,” Pisciotta said. “I think there is no way to tell what the numbers will be.”

To protest the project, Block Grain Belt Express started its own petition, which has generated almost 800 supporters.

Despite various feedback from both supporters and opponents of the project, the construction of the transmission line will not begin until the Missouri Public Services Commission issues a permit. Lawlor said the permit could be issued as far into the future as 2016, with the completion of the project and the line being activated in 2018.

Coal Free Mizzou will set up a table at Speakers Circle through Friday, where supporters of the project can sign the letter. Clean Line also has an online petition, which has 37 percent of the signatures the firm hopes to collect.

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