The eyes of the wind energy world are trained on Missouri, where the fate of a controversial wind energy transmission line now lies with the Missouri Public Commission — perhaps for the final time.

The eyes of the wind energy world are trained on Missouri, where the fate of a controversial wind energy transmission line now lies with the Missouri Public Commission — perhaps for the final time.

The commission heard testimony last week on the Grain Belt Express, a transmission line that would carry wind energy from the plains of Kansas through northern Missouri — including through Monroe and Ralls counties — to states further east.

It is unclear when the commission will render its decision and supporters and opponents of the project will soon learn if the project has the green light or if it will denied for a third time.

“We are nearly four years into this fight,” said Jennifer Gatrel, spokesperson for Block Grain Express-Missouri, an organization that has led the fight to stop the energy line. “Property rights are the backbone of farming and ranching. We keep on winning because we can’t afford to lose. Somehow, someway we will always find a way to protect what we hold dear.”

Opponents — mostly farmers and ranchers at the local level — have leveled a bevvy of complaints against the project. The Ralls County commission has expressed adamant disapproval of the project. One top concern is the potential use of eminent domain by the privately-owned company to use agricultural land for the project. Other concerns include impacts the line would have on farm operations and some health concerns. Missouri Landowners Alliance (MLA) provided unquestioned expert testimony from agricultural experts and business owners demonstrating the huge financial burden GBE would place on citizens across northern Missouri. 

The opposition received a boost when the PSC staff did not find a need for the project in the state. The commission will take into account the staff’s findings when rendering a decision.

Supporting the project, Missouri municipalities, Walmart, the Missouri Industrial Energy Consumers and others made their case to Missouri regulators in support of a market-based infrastructure project that would bring low-cost energy to the state. The Missouri Joint Municipal Electric Utility Commission (MJMEUC), an agency that procures power for municipal utilities across the state, has entered into an agreement to purchase wind energy delivered by the project to 35 municipal utilities in Missouri.

At last week’s hearings, the public power agency testified that the project would save their customers more than $10 million annually, if approved by the Commission. These annual savings would continue for at least 20 years.

Last week, the Hannibal City Council approved a contract to purchase energy from Grain Belt Express if it goes into operation.

Block Grain Belt Express expressed skepticism that the company could attract any future customers in the state at its current rates.

Grain Belt has touted the tax benefits to the affected counties. Grain Belt will pay $7 million in property taxes that will support local communities and schools in its first year of operation alone.

The Grain Belt Express has proven to be one of the most controversial and long-lived cases the PSC has heard. The case generated hundreds of comments from people throughout the state along with public meetings.

The case is unusual in that it is now on its third filing with the PSC. The PSC declined to provide the GBE necessary certificates in July 2015. The second filing was dismissed due to a procedural snafu.

Regulators in Kansas, Illinois, and Indiana have already approved the project. Missouri is the final state in which the project needs approval.

The proposed path also includes a converter station in Ralls County.

Reach editor Eric Dundon at eric.dundon@courierpost.com .