This photo illustration shows what Clean Line transmission projects would look like after construction. Credit: Clean Line Energy Partners

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Clean Line Energy Partners has sold or abandoned all of its active projects, leaving questions about the company’s status.

The sale of a planned long-distance transmission line project to a Chicago energy developer has left some customers more hopeful that it might someday deliver wind power from western Kansas to customers in the east.

Clean Line Energy Partners announced Monday that it has agreed to sell all of its assets related to the 780-mile Grain Belt Express project to Invenergy, which builds, owns and operates energy projects in North America and Europe.

The sale comes in advance of a series of public hearings in Missouri on the project, which has faced a series of legal and regulatory setbacks since it was proposed in 2011.

It also leaves uncertainty about the status of the company that originally backed the project and spent much of the decade trying to advance it. A company official said it had no active projects remaining and was not pursuing any at this time.

More: Previous Energy News Network coverage of the Grain Belt Express project

Earlier this year, Clean Line sold the Oklahoma assets of its proposed Plains & Eastern transmission line to NextEra Energy, and the assets of its Western Spirit project, located in New Mexico, to Pattern Development.

A fourth project that had been in Clean Line’s portfolio was recently removed from the company’s website and tabled by the company. The Rock Island Clean Line was proposed to move wind energy 500 miles from northwest Iowa to Illinois and the PJM grid but saw repeated legal and regulatory setbacks.

“We’re just not doing anything with it right now,” said Hans Detweiler, vice president of development for Clean Line Energy Partners. “It just doesn’t seem like the right time.”

Detweiler declined to say why the company is selling Grain Belt Express or what the project’s assets consist of, though he said he and the company’s other founders intended to build and construct projects with the option to sell them. The project has yet to clear major regulatory hurdles in Illinois and Missouri, though Kansas regulators have given permission for the project to proceed.

“Maybe that’s worth something” to a buyer, said Jennifer Gatrel, spokeswoman for Block Grain Belt Express – Missouri, a group that has fought to stop the project. She said they would continue to oppose the project’s efforts to obtain a certificate of convenience and necessity from Missouri regulators.

“We will stick with this fight to the bitter end,” Gatrel said. “It’s about property rights and public safety. We hope we don’t have to go through it all again, but we very well may.”

The proposed route of the Grain Belt Express through Missouri.

The Missouri Public Service Commission has three times rejected applications for the Grain Belt Express. The most recent time, in August 2017, four of five commissioners signed a statement saying they believed the project is in the public interest but that a court ruling regarding a different transmission project in Missouri prevented them from approving a permit.

The Missouri Supreme Court ruled in July 2018 that regulators were wrong to deny the permit, however, and sent the case back to commissioners. A new series of public hearings are scheduled Dec. 18-19 in Jefferson City.

In Illinois, Clean Line obtained a certificate to build the line in 2015. Two years later, though, the Illinois Appellate Court reversed the permission because it said the Clean Line did not qualify as a “utility.”

In a document filed Monday with Missouri regulators, Detweiler indicated that the Grain Belt’s developer would be positioned to buy property along the proposed Illinois route, allowing it to pursue a certificate again in Illinois, after obtaining a certificate in Missouri. The company has also asked for a five-year extension on the certificate already granted in Kansas.

Invenergy, headquartered in Chicago, has offices in a half-dozen locations around the world. According to the company website, it has developed 127 wind, solar, natural gas and storage projects with a total capacity of 20,400 megawatts. The company declined to comment beyond its news release.

John Grotzinger, chief operating officer for a coalition of municipal utilities in Missouri that has contracted to buy power off the Grain Belt Express, said he thinks the sale will only bolster the project’s future.

Invenergy is “a larger firm with considerable assets, so I’d expect it would only increase the likelihood of the Grain Belt line being built,” he said. “I am pretty optimistic of the status, especially here in Missouri on the odds of getting a certificate convenience and necessity.”

Betsy Beck, director for electricity and transmission policy at the American Wind Energy Association, said the sale is a hopeful sign. “It is encouraging to see the sale of Grain Belt Express to a proven developer like Invenergy because it underscores the promise and potential of the project.”

Karen Uhlenhuth

Karen spent most of her career reporting for the Kansas City Star, focusing at various times on local and regional news, and features. More recently, she was employed as a researcher and writer for a bioethics center at a children’s hospital in Kansas City. Karen covers Iowa, Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska, North Dakota and South Dakota.