WHAT OTHERS SAY: Let the wind blow through Missouri to power energy needs

Sunday, April 27, 2014 | 6:00 a.m. CDT

Moving clean energy from "the Saudi Arabia of wind" — aka western Kansas — to Missouri and states to the east is going to require some landowners to give a little so towers can be set up and transmission lines strung.

Unfortunately, some of the same people clamoring for the Keystone XL pipeline and its dirty energy from up north are standing in the way of progress on the clean American energy front. It makes no sense.

The so-called Grain Belt Express is a $2.2 billion project intended to cheaply deliver 3,500 megawatts of wind energy generated in western Kansas to Missouri, Indiana and beyond.

The proposed 750-mile route runs through Kansas, Missouri, Illinois and ends in Indiana. The line would cross eight counties in northern Missouri: Buchanan, Clinton, Caldwell, Carroll, Chariton, Randolph, Monroe and Ralls.

Missouri would get 500 megawatts of the power generated, which is all the state’s energy grid is capable of receiving, said Mark Lawlor, director of development at Houston-based Clean Line Energy.

Property owners will be compensated for the land they cede to the Grain Belt Express. They’re also going to be able to continue growing crops and feeding livestock on the parcels.

The only objection is that the landowners will have either roughly two or three steel lattice or steel monopoles, each between 110 feet and 140 feet tall, on their property.

Typically about nine acres are needed to erect two to three direct current lines, depending on the footprint of the tower, Mr. Lawlor said. The lattice towers have larger footprints than the monopoles, and fewer of them would be placed on a single parcel.

Mr. Lawlor has been through this before, in Kansas, where he says the company has completed buying the land it needs for that portion of the line.

The northern counties know about undesirable operations. They have embraced them in the past. State legislators squealed in welcome when a unit of Smithfield Foods Inc. set up 63 farms that raise sows and nine confined animal feeding operations in seven northern Missouri counties that feed and process the hogs.

Talk about odor, runoff and pollution, and you’re talking about hogs.

There were no squeals of delight to welcome a company trying to pave the way for clean energy that will eventually allow Americans to be less reliant on coal and big oil. This time around, the region’s lawmakers fear the money spigot will be turned off if they embrace green energy.

That’s right. Right-wingers have labeled renewable energy as the new liberal conspiracy and target of their vitriol. The Koch brothers, anti-tax activist Grover Norquist and some power companies have pushed campaigns in Kansas, North Carolina and Arizona that would roll back clean energy policies.

At the same time, taxpayers subsidize the oil industry by as much as $4.8 billion a year, with the big five oil companies — ExxonMobil, Shell, Chevron, BP and ConocoPhillips — getting about half the money.

The wildly wealthy Koch brothers — who Bloomberg News says have a net worth of more than $100 billion — are industrialists who have made much of their money from fossil fuels and who got their start from their father, who made most of his money in oil refining.

So if it seems there’s no rush to embrace wind energy, that impression is correct. Lawmakers in Missouri are trying to block the Grain Belt Express transmission line and another line proposed by Southwestern Electric Power Co., which would start and end in Arkansas but cut through 25 miles of Barry and McDonald counties in the southwest corner of Missouri.

The power of eminent domain should be treated very carefully, but Mr. Lawlor has said repeatedly that Clean Line is not planning to invoke it. He said the company’s goal is to negotiate fairly with landowners, offering them 100 percent of the market value in Missouri for the acreage.

Clean Line also will pay landowners about $18,000 for each tower that is erected or annual structured payments for each tower that will grow by 2 percent a year.

Improving the ability to efficiently move renewable energy through the country’s electric grid is an important step toward cutting carbon emissions and making renewable energy more cost effective.

Lawmakers in Missouri should be embracing the Grain Belt Express and the jobs that will come with its construction.

Copyright St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Reprinted with permission.

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