A new route utilizing existing right-of-ways was announced on Monday for the Mark Twain Transmission Project, a proposed power transmission line that will impact five northeast Missouri counties and customers of three regional rural electric cooperatives, including Tri-County Electric.
Representatives from Ameren Transmission Company of Illinois (ATXI), and Northeast Power were joined at the latter’s Palmyra headquarters by Missouri Senator Brian Munzlinger and state representatives Craig Redmon and Lindell Shumake to announce a new plan for the construction of a 345,000 volt transmission line and substation to be built in northeast Missouri.
After running into opposition to the proposed route for the project, ATXI is seeking to move forward with a partnership with Northeast Power and Ameren Missouri that would utilize existing right-of-way to construct the roughly 100 miles of transmission line that will cross Marion, Lewis, Knox, Adair and Schuyler counties, from Palmyra to Kirksville and then from Kirksville north to the Iowa state line.
“We’re pleased to announce that, working with Northeast Power Cooperative and Ameren Missouri, we’ve been able to identify a route that would co-locate across their existing right of way,” said Shawn Schukar, chairman and president of ATXI.
Originally ATXI had proposed construction of the new line on a different route, but ran into opposition from landowners across the five counties, ultimately being denied construction permits by the Adair and Marion county commissions, resulting in law suits by the company seeking judicial injunctions to allow the project to proceed.
“After listening to community members, landowners, county commissioners and other local and state representatives we evaluated new route options for the project,” said Schukar. “Working together with Northeast Power, we are proposing an option that addresses the concerns we heard. We believe the new route will achieve the intended project benefits of economic growth, increased tax revenue, greater reliability and improved access to clean energy sources for the region.”
Munzlinger became aware of the impasse and indicated he began working to put ATXI together with Northeast Power to help remedy the standoff.
“I visited with Doug early last year and he mentioned he had asked Ameren about the possibility of working together,” said Munzlinger. “I got the two to come together and am really glad I did. I think this is a win-win for everybody.”
Redmond agreed, calling the new proposal a great compromise.
“The Senator said it is a win-win,” said Redmon. “I think it is a win-win-win-win. A lot of wins in there. We get new infrastructure. We get more power for our constituents. And we get more tax base for our schools, hospital and roads.”
Both area legislators indicated that constituents had expressed concerns about the original proposed route, instead wishing to see it use existing right of way, which the new plan is now proposing.
ATXI expects to invest approximately $250 million in the project, which is planned to be placed in service in December 2019.
Ameren originally estimated that the Mark Twain Transmission Project would generate $3.5 million in new annual property taxes for the five counties, including $2.2 million of revenue each year for school districts in the impacted area, beginning with the first year the project is in service.
“The Mark Twain project brings important benefits to northeast Missouri,” said Jim Jontry, senior project manager, Ameren Transmission. “It improves the reliability of electricity for families and businesses and improves access to lower-cost energy while creating 200 jobs. It also provides a significant source of new local tax revenue that will benefit schools, roads and police, both during construction and even more so once the line is in-service.”
The original plan estimated $2.3 million each year for schools. including an estimated $763,000 for Adair County, $292,000 for Knox County, $437,000 for Shelby County, $358,000 for Marion County and $498,000 for Schuyler County.
Under the new plan, the route has been shifted into Lewis County, along the existing Northeast Power right of way, and no longer goes through Shelby County, with a much larger portion of the route in Knox County than previously projected, likely making for a much larger revenue stream for the Knox County school district and other public entities in the county.
In February 2015, and following significant public input over a period of several months, ATXI announced the final route decision for the project. In May 2015, ATXI filed an application with the Missouri Public Service Commission asking the Commission to grant a certificate of convenience and necessity to build, operate and maintain the line. On Jan. 29 of this year, the Missouri Public Service Commission (PSC) completed evidentiary hearings on the proposed project, which included testimony from Ameren related to tax benefits of the project.
On April 27, 2016, the Missouri Public Service Commission, by a vote of 5-0, approved ATXI’s application seeking a certificate of convenience and necessity (CCN) to construct the Mark Twain Transmission Project in Northeast Missouri. As part of the decision, the Commission found the project is in the Missouri public interest because it is needed to promote grid reliability, relieve congestion, promote renewable energy, meet local load serving needs, and provide downward pressure on customer rates
The Mark Twain Transmission Project is part of a Multi-Value Project (MVP) that was approved in 2011 by the Midcontinent Independent System Operator (MISO), a regional transmission organization providing regional grid management.
Doug Aelits, CEO and general manager for Northeast Power, explained that the project is nearly entirely located within the service territories of three of Northeast Power’s member distribution cooperatives, Lewis County Electric Cooperative, Missouri Rural Power Cooperative and Tri-County Electric Cooperative.
“We are all committed to provide safe, affordable and reliable electricity to member consumers and making smart investments in infrastructure is key to that mission,” said Aelits.
In a release from Tri-County Electric, General Manager, Jane Bahler-Hurt indicated the local cooperative did not partake in the negotiations, adding that the co-op has not had sufficient time to survey their membership on their views regarding the Mark Twain redesigned project.
“Therefore, the co-op takes neither a supporting nor opposing position at this time,” the statement said.
Aelits said the project will benefit landowners along the route by replacing old wooden H-frame transmission facilities with new steel monopoles that will eliminate guidelines and anchors while also raising line clearances, making them much easier to work around for farmers. The number of poles required is expected to be decreased by nearly 20% as well. The property owners will also receive increase easement payments.
But the project will ultimately benefit all customers of Northeast Power and its member distribution cooperatives according to Aeilts.
“The cooperative member consumers will benefit from a complete rebuild of Northeast Power’s aging 161 KV transmission line,” he said. “ATXI will pay for all project costs for co-locating on the existing transmission line right of way from Palmyra to Kirksville.”
He explained that the existing line, which spans approximately 55 miles from Palmyra to Kirksville, was built in 1969, and would have required a full replacement in the next 10-15 years with an estimated price tag of 430 million.
“Working with ATXI allows Northeast Power to save a significant amount of money, while improving the reliability of our transmission system,” said Aeilts.
The savings will go beyond the avoided reconstruction costs, as the two companies will split future right of way maintenance costs, producing additional annual savings.
While the new project does not physically cross Scotland County, it will impact the community which is predominantly served by Tri-County Electric Cooperative in its rural areas.
The City of Memphis is not part of the cooperative, but it is a customer of Northeast Power, the transition cooperative, which serves eight member distribution cooperatives, including Tri-County. The City of Memphis contracts “wheeling services” which basically is rental fees to use the main transmission lines to deliver power to the town.
That power can be delivered either from Northeast Power’s substation in Edina or from the Milton, IA substation, which is part of one of three southeast Iowa distribution cooperatives served by Northeast power.
Input from landowners will be gathered, and approval from Adair, Knox, Lewis, Marion and Schuyler counties is needed to proceed with the new route.
Northeast Power and ATXI recently sent letters and maps to property owners outlining details about the project and requesting feedback. Open houses for landowners who live along the proposed new route are scheduled for mid-June.
The plan will require new approval by the Missouri Public Service Commission. The option to use the original PSC approved route will remain open if the new route cannot be agreed upon.