Going on a Tiger hunt: Invenergy makes it case

Grain Belt Express information provided at open house

By Alan Dale Managing Editor
Posted 8/1/22

Following the recent announcement that Invenergy was going to add a Tiger Connector to its original Grain Belt Express project, people in Audrain and surrounding counties immediately cried …

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Going on a Tiger hunt: Invenergy makes it case

Grain Belt Express information provided at open house

Posted

Following the recent announcement that Invenergy was going to add a Tiger Connector to its original Grain Belt Express project, people in Audrain and surrounding counties immediately cried foul.

The new proposed Tiger Connector would have to disrupt a number of potential farms/homes in order to create more opportunities for people in Missouri to gain access to a potential energy source.

The open house provided Invenergy a chance to showcase the project and provide any updates to interested people who showed up to two events Tuesday – one in the afternoon another in the evening – as Jack Cardetti, media relations for Invenergy and a number of company representatives floated around making sure attendees could be spoken to.

“The purpose of these public meetings is to answer questions about the Grain Belt Express Tiger Connector and seek public input about possible routes that will allow us to bring five times more affordable, domestically produced power to Missouri than originally planned,” Brad Pnazek, Vice President, Transmission Developments for Invenergy, said. “The last thing we would want is for someone to come to these meetings and not get every last question answered, which is why we bring project representatives, engineers and others with expertise.”

Pnazaek said the Tiger Connector was established before the Grain Belt became operational since the “original filing for the PSC. there had always been a converter station contemplated for Missouri … there has always been that portion in Missouri. This is just Invenergy coming out and saying this is our plan coming for that DC converter station to the AC point of interconnection.”

He added that the announcement last week that there would be an increase from 4,000 to 5,000 megawatts and that it would benefit Missouri and not treat the state like a “fly by.”

“We recognize the benefits to be served here and we recognize the energy being delivered will serve your (interests),” Pnazek said. 

However, nothing has even started yet and so Pnazek addressed the concern of this potentially looking more like the cart being put before the horse.

“We are always trying to sell our product,” Pnazek said of Invenergy. “We are out talking to buyers of power, be it Fortune 500 companies that want to buy power from certain sources, utilities in regulated and unregulated states. Those entities are telling us … they are looking four, five, 10 years down the road and saying, ‘This many of our assets are going to retire, and we need to replace them with new things.’”

Pnazek acknowledged that the company has no empirical data that illustrates the demand for what the Grain Belt Express has to offer and to establish the amount of gravitas one would think to be needed in order to expand a project prior to it even starting.

“Large energy infrastructure projects like this are certainly on a time scale ... and the indicators we are getting ... with conversations with potential buyers, we know that developing a project like this, takes a long time ... and indicators we are getting from folks is, ‘We are going to need something like this in a couple of years,’” Pnazek said. “The projects we do pursue, we feel there is a high certainty that there is going to be a need for those projects.”

"We are a business out to do our business.”

That business could include the use of eminent domain through government support to gain access to the land needed and that has put many locals on their heels in frustration.

“To clarify, no one has been served with eminent domain. (It has been considered) in other places … where they don’t want to engage in that dialogue,” Pnazek said. “It’s the worst-case scenario. Our plan would be to enter in those conversations, sit at the kitchen table, have a cup of coffee and explain all those things how we can work to that voluntary arrangement.

“If it’s one person holding up the whole thing, that’s what eminent domain was put there to see that things can go forward to the benefit for everybody else.”

Pnazek also said that the project is being privately funded from investors that will finance the Grain Belt Express.

“There will be opportunities for other developers to be able to say (they will build a project) and generate the energy, put it on our line and pay the toll or fee whatever it could be,” Pnazek said that there are “always ongoing conversations” toward potential agreements with interested parties, but to his knowledge none have been entered to date.

“We are telling them the status of our projects," he said.

Points of emphasis made by Invenergy:

• The Grain Belt Express Tiger Connector is an approximately 40-mile-long electric transmission line that will connect an existing power infrastructure – the McCredie Substation, located in Callaway County – to new power delivery. This would be provided by the approved Grain Belt Express transmission line to be built in North Missouri. The proposed point of interconnection is in Monroe County.

• Benefits would include, an easement package that provides landowner protections and fair compensation, $4.4 billion in forecasted energy cost savings and additional reliability benefits for Missouri, new local jobs, spending and economic activity during construction and new community tax revenue for the life of the project and 100 percent clean, domestic power to strengthen America’s energy independence – the equivalent of two nuclear power plants worth of homegrown energy available to Missouri customers.

• This would provide a “new era of growth” with thousands of jobs, local investments, energy savings, carbon reductions and greater energy reliability.

Power would be transmitted across the Grain Belt Express using direct current (DC) and would need to be converted to alternating current (AC) at a converter station. Currently, there are a number of potential paths that Invenergy Transmission is evaluating as there are no preferred paths to date.

Invenergy states that all potential routes are evaluated by considering environmental, engineering and social criteria and that “all landowner input will be considered throughout the routing process.”

A map of the potential Tiger Connector route options has been provided (see accompanying art).

The typical monopole structure types would include voltage 345kv, a footprint of 5-foot diameter foundation, a typical span length between structures of 800 feet and a height within the 120–160-foot range.

The Grain Belt Express project was taken over by Invenergy in 2020 from Clean Line and it would connect four states across 800 miles with 50 percent of power delivered to Missouri. 

The project has an existing agreement in place with 39 municipal utilities (including Centralia and Monroe City) across the state. The agreement will provide more than $12.8 million in estimated annual savings for citizen-led, non-profit hometown utilities and the customers they serve which would enhance the competitiveness of rural communities throughout the state. Mexico is not one of those municipalities.

Invenergy states that the company has “successfully developed over 190 large-scale energy projects.

That’s why Invenergy set up these open houses according to Pnazek.

“We are here to listen to the peoples’ sentiments and start a dialogue,” he said. “This is just the first start from that.”

The next steps would include a planned application submission to the Missouri Public Service Commission for approval this month and then between now and 2023 the conduction of environmental surveys, final engineering design, landowner engagement and easement acquisition along with an anticipated Missouri Public Service Commission review and decision in May. 

The earliest construction would commence is expected by 2024.

When asked if to his knowledge had money been exchanged between Invenergy and any state government officials, Pnazek said he had no knowledge of this happening. 

What the people said

Invenergy states that it “knows how to build relationships the right way,” but according to some, that might be a little too fluffy of a description.

Callaway County resident Dennis Taylor, indicated his disdain since the Grain Belt Express would provide another power line throughout various properties already affected by similar ones.

“It’s going to make those smaller pieces of property worth a lot less money,” Taylor said. “Who is going to want to move to the country and look at tall power lines right out their bedroom window? I asked them if they would even come out to talk to me before this gets going and they said, ‘we will be before we get started,’ but at that stage of the game it’s too late.

“I don’t know if it’s already too late.”

Taylor said the potential of eminent domain being used doesn’t sit well with him.

“It’s not right, but sometimes, money makes a difference,” Taylor said. “Sometimes they’ll pay you more than it’s worth, but sometimes, money isn’t what it’s always about. It’s mine and I don’t want it going across … I don’t think there is anything I can do about it except fuss.”

Marilyn O’Bannon of Monroe County said she has opposed the Grain Belt project for almost nine years, so the Tiger Connector definitely has drawn her ire.

“I was surprised when they announced this a couple weeks ago,” O’Bannon said. “They thought they could just get an amendment from the PSC and get this approved. The very same day, the PSC issued a reply saying ‘no, you will have to file an application.’ They are proposing a lot more energy into Missouri they weren’t initially approved for.

“My thoughts are: They don’t need it. They don’t have customers. They do not have any way to deliver this. I am confused how they think they can just take it to a substation, and someone is just going to accept it?”

O’Bannon said she is concerned with the building on farms that could conflict with those families' day-to-day living and need to pay the bills. 

“It’s all through the middle of your farm that is all tillable acres … there is no way you can compensate someone enough,” O’Bannon said. “The No. 1 reason I am against it is the eminent domain. If it’s so wonderful and it’s we’re all going to benefit us, why do you have to take it?

“There are so many unknowns and we can’t get the answers. They can’t build in Kansas until they get approval in Illinois, so why are they pushing for these easements? They can sell them off after they get them. Do they want to find customers for the easements and not for the electricity? Those are the questions I have.”

O’Bannon and others also were concerned with Invenergy’s commitment to clean up after the project tears up the farms the Grain Belt will need to go through.

“It is our responsibility to put things back in a similar state that we found them in,” Pnazek said. “We have to clean them all up before we hightail it out.”

He added all such semantics must be discussed with individual property owners before any work begins.

House representative Republican Kent Haden said the routes presented for the connector are a bit different than the ones originally presented.

“I asked why the McCredie sub station … the answer I was given was that this was an intersection for Ameren and the electric cooperative network – and I have confirmed this,” Haden said. “I asked why the major change in the amount of power dropped in Missouri. The answer I got was that the legislature wanted this, so they had dropped more power lines.

“The bill on eminent domain that just passed applies to new transmission lines and not to Grain Belt, so this is not why they are not dropping off this power.”

Due to these changes and the fact there is a change from a DC to AC current, according to Haden, he believes that Tiger Connector should be considered a new project and not a part of the original PSC and should not receive an expedited review.

“That would mean it would fall under the new eminent domain law,” Haden said. “None of my constituents at the open house were in favor of the new line.”

For questions regarding the project contact Invenergy at 866-452-4082, tigerconnector@grainbeltexpress.com, and/or visit grainbeltexpress.com/tiger-connector. 

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