Electricity Markets

Court says Mo. PSC erred in denial for major grid project

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The Missouri Supreme Court on July 17 ruled that the state’s Public Service Commission erred in denying a certificate of convenience and need to a proposed transmission line, giving hope to the developers of the 780-mile project.

Clean Line Energy, the Houston based developer of the project, says the proposed direct current Grain Belt Express Clean Line project would cost $2.3 billion and be able to move 4,000 MW of renewable power from wind farms in Kansas to electricity markets in Missouri, Illinois and Indiana and points further east.

In June 2016, the Missouri Joint Municipal Electric Utility Commission approved a proposal to increase the public power agency's renewable energy supply by purchasing long-term transmission service on the transmission project.

At the time, the Missouri Joint Municipal Electric Utility Commission said that the agreement it reached with the transmission line project was expected to save public power ratepayers in the state at least $10 million annually when the project becomes operational.

The Grain Belt Express Clean Line transmission project has already received approvals from regulators in Kansas, Illinois and Indiana. The project stalled when the Missouri PSC in August 2017 denied the certificate of convenience and need for the project.

In its denial, the Missouri PSC cited a 2017 appeals court decision, In re Ameren Transmission Co. of Illinois, that held against the PSC’s granting of a conditional CCN for a transmission line Ameren had proposed. Grain Belt and Missouri Joint Municipal Electric Utility Commission appealed the PSC order.

The PSC had conditioned approval on the utility securing approval from each of the counties through which the transmission line would pass. The appeals court said the PSC erred in granting conditional approval before the county approvals were obtained.

The Supreme Court, however, ruled that the PSC erred in its application of state law in the Ameren case. Missouri law does not require county approval for a “line CCN,” but does require county approvals for a distribution or “area CCN.”

An area CCN allows a utility to exercise a franchise and provide retail utility service to a geographic territory. Grain Belt did not apply for an area CCN because, according to Grain Belt, it will not be providing retail service to electric consumers. “Accordingly, it was not required to obtain consents from the affected counties before the commission could issue a line CCN,” the Supreme Court said.

Because the project sought a line CCN, the Supreme Court says the PSC erred in its order. Approvals from the eight Missouri counties through which the transmission line would pass is not required, the Supreme Court said. The court reversed the PSC’s decision and remanded the case back to the commission for reconsideration.

The Supreme Court also acknowledged a separate requirement pertaining to obtaining a CCN for the Grain Belt project. County approval is needed under Missouri law, if a proposed project impacts publicly-owned roads.

The Supreme Court said that issue is separate from the one under consideration in the case presented to the court and that Grain Belt is aware of that requirement.

The court’s decision is available here.