A bill that could have blocked the Grain Belt Express project in northern Missouri was amended and passed by the Senate early Thursday – and the latest version of the bill will not affect Grain Belt in any way.
The bill would change provisions allowing utility companies to use eminent domain, the process by which private land is acquired to meet certain public needs, including roads, schools and utilities.
But the Senate version also clarified that the new eminent domain provisions would only apply to prospective projects – meaning they would not affect Grain Belt Express, a high-voltage transmission line project that has already been approved by the Public Service Commission.
The House bill’s sponsor, Rep. Mike Haffner, R-Pleasant Hill, said in an interview that he supports the Senate changes and that the House will soon pass the revised bill.
The original bill was sparked by opposition to the Grain Belt project, which would run 800 miles between Kansas and Indiana, including through Missouri.
The company behind the project, Invenergy Transmission, is to use eminent domain to acquire the necessary land easements in eight Missouri counties. But those who oppose the project say only 7% of the electricity produced will go to Missouri. They argue that this contradicts Grain Belt Express’s status as a utility in Missouri.
Haffner has proposed a bill that would ban electrical projects that have not been approved by county commissioners, whether or not the project has been cleared by the state Civil Service Commission. The bill also required that at least 50% of the power created by a transmission line go to Missouri.
The replacement bill that passed the Senate removed the county commissioners’ veto power and adjusted the requirement for the amount of power reserved for Missouri. Instead of 50%, the substitute asks for an amount proportional to the length of the line crossing the Missouri.
The Senate substitute has consistently supported many of the original proposals: Companies using eminent domain for power lines must pay owners 150% of the market value of the land – and a farmer who has lived in the area at least 10 years would be involved in determining the market value of land.
Sen. Jason Bean, R-Holcomb, said the replacement will still ensure Missouri residents benefit from utility projects using eminent domain.
The bill is a “good faith step in the right direction to ensure Missouri landowners remain whole and can operate without the looming threat of energy projects negatively impacting their operations,” said Bean, the manager. of the bill in the Senate.
Haffner agreed that the changes made were consistent with the intentions of his bill. He said that HB 2005 was never meant to hamper the Grain Belt Express, specifically.
“The intent of this bill was to try to fix the existing law which was infuriated by the grain belt situation – it was never targeted at the grain belt,” he said. “It’s a good bill. It solves a lot of problems. »
A Grain Belt attorney testified in January that targeting Grain Belt with “special law” would be unconstitutional and invite a legal challenge.
Communities about to buy power from the Grain Belt Express support the Senate changes, said Ewell Lawson, chief operating officer of the Missouri Public Utility Alliance, a state association representing utilities. municipal. Lawson said there are 39 communities across the state — including Columbia — that have acquired power from Kansas that will be carried by the Grain Belt Express.
Lawson said the project’s ability to go ahead will save those communities $13 million, and he thinks the substitute was a fair trade-off for landowners.
“We’ve been working on this for five to seven years,” Lawson said. “We are delighted that this has apparently been resolved with regard to Grain Belt Express.”
Since the Senate made changes to the bill passed by the House, the legislation now returns to the House for final approval. The replacement went through a tax review on Thursday, Haffner said, and may be on the House debate schedule soon.