JEFFERSON CITY – Proposed legislation limiting the ability of private companies to be granted the power of eminent domain has passed one hurdle with a vote in Missouri's House.
Representatives voted to move forward a slightly amended version of House Bill 1062, introduced to stop a company using eminent domain to construct a series of pylons across the north of the state.
The Grain Belt Express is designed to deliver energy from wind farms in Kansas to Illinois and Indiana, and beyond to other eastern states. In March, the Public Service Commission (PSC), which regulates utilities, granted to Clean Line Energy, recently sold to Invenergy, the right of eminent domain.
Missouri Farm Bureau President Blake Hurst | Missouri Farm Bureau
Some Missouri communities along the route will benefit from reduced price electricity, but it amounts to a total of just more than $10 million, said Blake Hurst, a Westboro farmer and current president of the Missouri Farm Bureau (MOFB). The value is estimated at just under $13 million, according to the St. Louis Post Dispatch.
The MOFB is one of the landowner organizations leading the campaign against the use of eminent domain and supporting the legislation sponsored by Rep. Jim Hansen (R-Frankford).
"This is just another attempt by a private companies and a government commission to eliminate our personal liberties," Hansen said, as reported by the St. Louis Post Dispatch. "I am not opposed to green energy. I’m so opposed to a private company saying, ‘I’m gonna do this and you’re gonna like it — or else."
Hurst told the St. Louis Record that there are rules relating to utility companies and their ability to invoke eminent domain. These include that they serve people along the lines and that the rates are set by the PSC, meaning the public has the ability to control rates, Hurst said, adding that is not the position with the Grain Belt Express.
"These guys are wielding power unregulated," Hurst said.
The MOFB president also said farmers may have allowed pylons on their land for a fair price, but the company is offering just $500 to $1,000 a year when it should be as much as $10,000.
To allow a private company to construct on private land, where there is no real benefit to the people of the state, has never been done before, Hurst said.
Some communities expressed support for the project, including those that will benefit from lower electricity rates.
Rep. Tracy McCreery (D-St. Louis), quoted in the Columbian Missourian, said that there will be immediate tax benefits for small communities.
“Think about what a huge difference $13 million being plugged into the economy could make in your small community and our bigger communities all around the state - it’s a huge economic impact,” McCreery said.
Hurst said it the debate turns on individual property rights protected by the constitution against government power. Those rights cannot be ignored, he said.