Evergy’s Flat Ridge Wind Farm in Kansas (photo submitted).
A $2 billion wind energy project spanning the length of northern Missouri is for the first time asking a judge to force a resistant landowner to sell the company an easement on their land.
Grain Belt Express, a proposed high-voltage transmission line that would carry 4,000 megawatts of renewable energy from Western Kansas to Indiana, has faced fierce criticism from some Missouri landowners and elected officials.
In September, it filed a petition for condemnation against a farmer from Gower named Bradley Horn. A hearing in the case was originally scheduled last week in the Circuit Court of Buchanan County but was delayed until Feb. 2.
The company is arguing that Horn “did not accept the written offer for the property interests,” and later “negotiations were unsuccessful.” It marks the first time Grain Belt Express has taken a resistant landowner to court.
The judge can appoint three disinterested residents of the county, who have to assess the just compensation for Horn.
Horn’s attorneys declined to comment.
When the Grain Belt Express got its approval from the Missouri Public Service Commission in 2019, the decision was criticized by some because it granted the private company the right to obtain easements through eminent domain.
Yet the company has always insisted it would only use that procedure as a last resort to acquire 1,700 parcels of land in Kansas and Missouri.
According to Patrick Whitty, vice president of the project’s parent company, Invenergy Transmission, Grain Belt Express has “now completed right-of-way acquisition through voluntary easement agreements for approximately 65% of the route in Missouri and Kansas, compared to only one third completed at the start of the year.”
At the beginning of this year, the company had made payments of $4.9 million to landowners in Missouri combined. As it stands today, that figure is $8.5 million.
Grain Belt Express offers landowners compensation of 110% of the market value of land, plus $18,000 per tower structure. That offer was recently increased, Whitty said, to reflect “rising farmland values.” For example, one farmer from Madison in northeast Missouri was offered $98,000 to allow two tower structures on nine acres of cropland.
Donna and Kenneth Inglis, a retired couple from Huntsville, were happy to close a deal with Grain Belt Express a year ago.
“I strongly support the project because I strongly believe in green energy,” Donna Inglis said. “If our ancestors wouldn’t have accepted rural electricity, we would still be working with kerosine lamps.”
Inglis didn’t want to disclose the details of the financial offer, but she said “it’s a lot of money.”
However, while some landowners are more than willing to grant the company access to their land, others continue to resist the transmission structures, which are 40 feet by 40 feet wide and between 130 to 160 feet tall.
“Some people have been farming here for more than 100 years,” says Marilyn O’Bannon, western district commissioner in Monroe County. “Their land is their heritage. And now, they want to build something through the middle of our land, next to an existing electricity line. We can’t farm efficiently around obstacles. And show me where the value for our state is.”
O’Bannon’s family owns land on the future transmission line. Whereas Inglis praises the professionalism of Grain Belt Express agents, O’Bannon says there has been a lack of transparency.
“The potential dangers and unknowns as well as lack of project details are overwhelming,” O’Bannon said. “Landowners are left in the dark as long as possible. I can’t describe the emotional impact.”
The road ahead to complete the Grain Belt Express project remains long and bumpy.
In the summer of 2020, Invenergy announced the transmission line would deliver more energy to Missouri than originally anticipated, doubling its investment in the state to $1 billion.
The Public Service Commission still has to approve the extended plan. And after years of litigation and regulatory proceedings involving the project, that could once again stir up opposition to the transmission line.
It could also fuel continued efforts by Grain Belt Express critics to push Missouri lawmakers to pass legislation undermining the project.
Earlier this year, a bill requiring that Grain Belt Express gets resolutions of support from county commissions in each of the counties in the project’s path cleared the Missouri House but died in the Senate.
This story has been updated since it originally published.
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