Several area rural property owners stood in line outside the Knights of Columbus Hall Tuesday evening, waiting to hear about a major wind energy project that will bring thousands of jobs to Missouri, and possibly to Audrain County residents interested in being a part of the construction.
Grain Belt Express Clean Line is holding public open houses across the state, inviting landowners to offer feedback on the project. More than 200 people attended the Tuesday night two-hour session in Mexico.
Grain Belt officials said the public's feedback will help the company select the best route to transport the energy and bring wind energy to market.
The $2 billion project will build the Grain Belt Express Line across a 700-mile stretch of land from southwest Kansas to Missouri, Illinois, Indiana, and states farther east. Officials said the job will require hundreds of local contractors for the transmission line and area residents willing to offer their land for the installation of transmission structures.
Once the gateway to transport the energy is complete, officials said it will open the opportunity for even more wind turbines and more jobs at the wind farms.
Using flip charts, officers gave those attending Tuesday's meeting brief outlines of the company history, its purpose, proposed routes and plans. According to the Clean Line partners, the economic benefits of the project include 5,000 construction jobs, 500 operations jobs, manufacturing jobs, local business partnerships and property tax revenue.
Cousins Ron and Bill Azdell both own land along the proposed routes shown Tuesday night. Bill's property is far enough away that he doesn't think his land will be affected by the project. However he did say the one potential drawback to the project is that the structures could interfere with the operation of irrigation systems along the route. Ron thinks anything that will keep the cost of energy down is good, but he did question what effect the transmission process would have on his crops.
"Some farmers have pivot irrigation systems, which are basically an irrigator that makes a big circle. So there is the question if the structure is going to affect the farmer's ability to irrigate," said Clean Line partner Diana Rivera. "We are committed to work with landowners to try and minimize the impact on the activities with irrigation and we will take their suggestions on where we should put the structures on their property once we identify a route."
Rivera said the transmission system will not affect crop production except where the structure foundation is located. "A farmer wouldn't be able to farm the land where the structure is, but they can farm around it and within the easement, except where the structures are. That's why we're compensating for each structure location," she said.
The feedback received at the public open houses will help the Grain Belt Express team refine the potential routes for the transmission line and ultimately select a proposed route to file for approval with the Missouri Public Service Commission. Landowners will be notified if their property is along the proposed route. The team will continue to receive feedback on its website and over the telephone, so those who did not get to attend any of the meetings can still give feedback.
Page 2 of 2 - Grain Belt Express Clean Line anticipates selecting a preferred route early next year and filing an application with the Commission around February or March.
"Audrain County is perfectly situated along the route and there are a lot of options in this area," Rivera said. "We know where we're coming in to the state, but we don't know yet where we will cross the river. We've got a lot of options to consider."
Grain Belt held a local business opportunity meeting here in June, seeking qualified local and regional contractors and suppliers to assist in the development, construction and maintenance of the transmission line. Since then, the company has contracted with St. Louis-based ABB to manufacture current (AC) transformers for the Grain Belt collector system project, and more recently with Hubble Power Systems Inc. (A.B.Chance) in Centralia.
A Hubble representative said their company has a purchasing agreement with Grain Belt Express Clean Line to provide transmission components, insulation and hardware for the project.
To learn more about the Grain Belt Express Clean Line or to voice feedback about the project, visit www.GrainBeltExpressCleanLine.com. Or call the toll-free hotline at (855) 665-3438.