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Potential transmission line draws protests

by Anakin Bush | August 31, 2022 at 4:07 a.m.
Protestors gather outside the Missouri Public Service Commission in Jefferson City to protest against the Grain Belt Express Tiger Connector, which was submitted for approval to the PSC on Aug. 24. (Anakin Bush/Fulton Sun photo)

No eminent domain for private gain. Deny unregulated merchants. Protect our farmland. These were all signs present Tuesday in front of the Missouri Public Service Commission in Jefferson City.

A group of around 30 residents and farmland owners gathered in protest of the Grain Belt Express Tiger Connector, a project by the Chicago-based company Invenergy. They plan to add a transmission line across Audrain County and Northern Callaway County.

The Grain Belt Express is an electric transmission infrastructure project that stretches more than 400 miles and across four states -- Kansas, Missouri, Illinois and Indiana.

The Tiger Connector is a proposed transmission line to connect existing power infrastructure in Callaway County to new power delivery through the Grain Belt Express line in northern Missouri. Power will be sent from a converter station in Monroe County to Callaway County, which has a strong enough power grid system to handle the influx of power; 140-foot tall power lines will be constructed for the project.

The line is split into seven proposed areas. Areas 1-5 run across Audrain, with areas 6 and 7 entering Callaway.

Invenergy claims the Tiger Connector Line will have many benefits related to the line. The website for the project states there will be a five times increase in power delivered by the Grain Belt Express, with $4.4 billion saved in energy for Missouri. They also claim the project will result in thousands of construction jobs and an increase of millions per year in property tax revenue.

There have been three motions filed with the PSC to intervene with the Tiger Connector approval, all of which were filed Aug. 12. The three motions were filed by the Missouri Landowners Alliance, the Eastern Missouri Landowners Alliance doing business as Show Me Concerned Landowners and Norman Fishel.

Grain Belt Express issued a response to the motions Aug. 22. In this statement, it is claimed the motions to intervene were filed prematurely. A motion to intervene is to be filed within 30 days after the PSC gives notice of the case.

Grain Belt Express filed a request Aug. 24 to waive the 60-day notice requirement. The PSC is supposed to give a period of 60 days before making a decision regarding approval of the Tiger Connector. This period is to allow for citizen feedback and response. They previously tried to waive the 60 days, but were told by the PSC the request was premature.

There are currently 102 public comments on the Grain Belt case with the PSC.

Invenergy's news release states the project is in response to strong regional demand, although the protesters Tuesday would disagree.

The protest was organized by Pat Stemme of Centralia, who owns two pieces of farmland in the area. The gathered crowd stood outside the PSC building and held signs in opposition of the Tiger Connector. They want the PSC to deny Grain Belt Express' request for approval.

Stemme said they received notification last month about construction of the line. She said they were not told specifics about the project, except that it would provide more energy for the area.

Stemme said there is not really a need for more energy, as Consolidated Electric Cooperative in Mexico has two natural gas plants planned for the future. She said natural gas is very economical in the area, and there is plenty of electricity provided.

The protestors said Invenergy does not have enough customers in the area to warrant the need for the Tiger Connector. Stemme said Invenergy has filed for government subsidies for the project, which she says indicates taxes will go up.

Stemme said the line will go directly through farmland, which mostly produces corn and soybeans. One of Stemme's pieces of farmland would be cut in half diagonally by the line. She said it would be very difficult for farm equipment to go around the power poles.

Stemme said they are also concerned about the potential health ramifications of the construction. She said they will emit electromagnetic fields and electromagnetic radiation.

"If you're living near one of these, we really don't know," Stemme said. "There are a lot of concerns on that front, right there."

Stemme said she doesn't want the poles on her property as it will decrease the property value, but she said there is a bigger issue at play.

"This administration we have right now wants to replace coal power and natural gas with these supposed green energy. I think that's a farce, because it's not green at all," Stemme said.

In addition to the protest, concerned citizens are also writing letters and continuing efforts to relay their feedback to the PSC about the project.

Stemme plans to gather signatures from farmland owners affected by the project.

"We don't feel that they (Invenergy) have proven the need. We feel like this is a speculative venture, and it's for profit," Stemme said.

In a statement from Grain Belt Express, they thanked citizens for their feedback but did not address the concerns of the protesters.

"We are thankful to the residents of Audrain, Callaway and Monroe counties, who provided critical input in the routing process that shaped the final proposed route," Grain Belt Express said in its statement.

The statement continued to say they will deliver $4.6 billion in energy savings for rural areas and small towns in Missouri, while continuing to serve the 39 communities that are currently customers.

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