The Missouri House of Representatives gave final approval Thursday to a bill seeking to restrict private utility companies from using eminent domain, effectively blocking the Grain Belt Express wind energy transmission line.
The bill would keep companies that don’t serve end-use customers from using eminent domain to put up a direct current energy transmission line from which they are selling power.
Representatives voted 115-35 in favor of the bill, sponsored by State Rep. Jim Hansen, R-Frankford. The Senate will consider it next.
Representatives Chuck Basye, Dave Muntzel, Kent Haden, Sara Walsh and Tim Remole all voted in favor of the bill. Rep. Martha Stevens voted against it, and Representatives Kip Kendrick and Cheri Toalson Reich were absent from the vote.
Proponents of the bill have spoken out against Clean Line Energy using eminent domain to take easements for the Grain Belt Express, a proposed wind energy line that would stretch from the Iron Star wind farm in southwestern Kansas to Indiana, and then on to the Eastern states, crossing eight Missouri counties. Opponents argued in favor of eminent domain restrictions, but opposed targeting wind energy.
Rep. J. Eggleston, R-Maysville, has wind turbines in his northwest-Missouri district, and can see them from every window in his house, he said. In this case, the private companies installing wind turbines went to landowners and offered to lease parts of their land.
It’s the landowner’s choice to lease their land for a turbine, and they haven’t been forced by eminent domain, he said. Clean Line Energy, which Chicago-based Invenergy bought last year, could have done the same thing, he said. “They tried an end-around using eminent domain,” he said.
Representatives from the St. Louis area spoke against how eminent domain has been used there: like razing a North St. Louis neighborhood to make way for a National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency complex and taking land for malls and shopping centers in St. Louis County, when the House debated the bill earlier in the week.
Everyone in the House can agree that private companies should profit by taking property from private citizens, but the bill clearly singles out wind energy, Rep. Peter Merideth, D-St. Louis, said during debate on Thursday.
Rep. Gina Mitten, D-Richmond Heights, said the bill picks winners and losers. Ameren, which wouldn’t be restricted by the bill because it serves end users, has used eminent domain to put up transmission lines, she said. The House should be talking about eminent domain, but not to stop one transmission line, she said.
“I have constituents that are sick and tired of eminent domain, and sick and tired of it being used for purposes they don’t feel are appropriate,” she said.
Rep. Dean Plocher, R-Des Peres, said the state does pick winners and losers when deciding who to give the power of eminent domain. It can be used for things like roads that benefit Missourians, but he didn’t see how the Grain Belt Express would.
“It would benefit east coast or eastern states with lower energy by taking property rights away from our Missouri farmers,” Plocher said.
The bill will effectively kill new infrastructure projects like the Grain Belt Express, the Municipal Public Utility Alliance said in a statement. The Missouri Public Energy Pool, which serves 35 cities, including Fayette, Vandalia and Marshall, has already agreed to buy 60 megawatts of power off the line. Columbia and Kirkwood also have agreed to purchase energy from the line. The 39 utilities who have agreed to purchase from the line combine to serve more than 350,000 people, the alliance said. It estimated they would save $12.8 million a year.
Rep. Jeff Shawan, R-Poplar Bluff, said the problem comes from a 2005 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Kelo v. City of New London, Connecticut, which allowed private use of eminent domain for economic development.
“That was bad law then, it’s bad law now,” he said. “This is a bad use of eminent domain, and we need to look at the rights of private property owners being trampled on in the State of Missouri for people who are rich and getting much richer.”
Rep. Tim Remole, R-Excello, said he doesn’t like wind energy because it’s not as reliable as fossil fuels and wouldn’t be sustainable without government subsidies.
“The wind isn’t always blowing,” he said.
Merideth said there’s a limited supply of fossil fuels, so it’s not a completely reliable source of energy, either. He asked Remole if the fossil fuel industry would have been successful without government subsidies, and Remole admitted subsidies have helped it.