Missouri Farm Bureau President Garrett Hawkins talks about “This Week in Missouri Politics.” | Photo courtesy of The Missouri Times
JEFFERSON CITY, Missouri— After a strongly worded request from the entire Missouri farming community, the Grain Belt Express has agreed to follow the eminent estate law passed last session as it builds its Tiger Connector line through the counties of Audrain, Callaway and Monroe.
The Farm Bureau called Invenergy, the owner of the Grain Belt Express transmission line project, for attempting to circumvent the new eminent domain laws set out in Internal Bill 2005.
The Grain Belt Express transmission line has been a source of contention for nearly 10 years, including in 2019 when the Missouri Public Service Commission gave the project Eminent Domain Authority to build its new power line after previously rejecting their request.
Invenergy acquired the project in 2018 but did not draft the original plans.
In response to eminent domain concerns arising from the project, the Missouri Legislature past HB 2005 during the spring session. HB 2005 establishes new rules for eminent domain procedures in transmission line projects.
Among other things, HB 2005 sets a compensation floor for Missouri landowners who go through eminent domain proceedings. The promised compensation is 150% of “fair market value”, a figure to be determined by the courts.
However, many stakeholders were disappointed to see that the HB 2005 rules do not apply retroactively, the law does not come into effect until August 28. This means that the Grain Belt Express transmission line, the original source of eminent domain concern, is not beholden to HB 2005 provisions.
The Chicago-based energy company plans to build an addition to the Grain Belt Express in Mid-Missouri, called the Tiger connector. Invenergy says the connector will bring significant energy benefits to Missouri, connecting its transmission line to existing electrical infrastructure in Callaway County. The project is expected to bring 5 times more energy to Missouri from the Grain Belt Express, according to Invenergy’s website.
The groups published a press release on the situation on Thursday afternoon.
Grain Belt originally attempted to claim that the Tiger Connector Line was merely an extension of the original line and not a new project. The alleged attempt to circumvent the new law occurred earlier in July, according to Garrett Hawkins, president of the Missouri Farm Bureau.
“It all depends on the timing of the announcement. And at the time of their most recent filing, you see they had applied to the Public Service Commission in July to amend the existing filing,” Hawkins said. “The PSC has denied this and has now said a new case will be created. Thus, this filing with the PSC led farmers and landowners to believe that Invenergy was trying to preempt the coming into force of this new law.
“That will play out within the Public Service Commission,” Hawkins added. “In the meantime, we believe that Invenergy alone can do the right thing by publicly acknowledging that it intends to comply with the provisions contained in HB 2005.”
In response, Invenergy released a statement Friday morning.
“We plan to honor these wishes by compensating the Grain Belt Express Tiger Connector landowners at 150% of fair market value for easement payments while designing the project to be capable of delivering half of the capacity. of the line in Missouri,” the statement read.
The Farm Bureau and other agricultural groups aren’t so sure about Invenergy’s promises.
“Unfortunately, we have no reason to take their words to heart,” said Mike Deering, executive vice president of the Missouri Cattlemen’s Association. “The relationship was mired in deception and outright lies to landowners. Although this news is encouraging, you have to show me.
Hawkins was thrilled to see the announcement, but doesn’t plan to drop Invenergy in the future.
“It’s encouraging to see Grain Belt announcing that they will follow the law,” Hawkins said. “It will be a situation of trust, but check and you can count on people from the Missouri Farm Bureau to attend public meetings about the project.”
Rep. Mike Haffner, R-Pleasant Hill, sponsored HB 2005 through the House during the spring session. He thinks lawmakers would be willing to take action if Grain Belt Express circumvented the law.
“There are a lot of representatives and senators who are very concerned about what happened,” Haffner said. “I will be watching the debates within the PSC very closely.”
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