Our View: Transmission project needs transparency

Following the community forum earlier this week, the Mark Twain Transmission Project once again has become a hot-button topic of conversation in Kirksville and the surrounding area.

This 100-mile proposed electrical transmission line would link Palmyra, Missouri, with a new substation just outside Kirksville, and then continue north to the Iowa border.

The path of the project site would cut across rural Missouri, including land that houses private farms and homes. Since Ameren revealed the initial plans and began working with the community during 2014, the project proposal has met stiff opposition from landowners in the proposed path of the project. The chief voice of opposition is Neighbors United, a grassroots organization committed to stopping the project from proceeding as planned in northeastern Missouri. Ameren has responded by organizing forums for public discussion about the project.

Based on the literature available from Ameren and Neighbors United, we, the Editorial Board, find the project details leave us with more questions than answers. Consequently, we ask that Ameren be more open about exactly what it wants to accomplish, and how the end goal of reduced transmission congestion would justify using eminent domain to seize rural Missouri land.

The bottom line is Ameren needs to be more upfront about why this project is taking place. At least on Ameren’s website, it is unclear why the project is necessary or whether it is fulfilling an expressed need other than to meet government regulation standards such as the Renewable Energy Standard and the Missouri Renewable Energy Standard. We do not think those standards are bad or unimportant, but sometimes overregulation can harm more than it helps. Interestingly enough, Ameren just submitted an application for a Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity with the Missouri Public Service Commission.

The Ameren website lists several benefits of the new line, including reliability of electrical service, access to low-cost energy and access to renewable energy. The first question we must pose is whether unreliable service is a current factor. Nowhere on Ameren’s websites or in its reports is it mentioned consumers have complained about unreliable service. If that is the case, it would make sense to undertake a project to improve a service consumers pay for. However, if complaints or a lack thereof do not seem to indicate the need for a large-scale overhaul of the transmission system, it begs the question — why is this happening?

Second, the Ameren website lists “improved access to low-cost energy” as one of the benefits of undertaking the project. However, the same website says the project is being undertaken by Ameren Transmission Company of Illinois, an Ameren transmission subsidiary that does not necessarily deal directly with energy consumers.

We question what constitutes low-cost energy and — practically speaking — how the project will accomplish what Ameren has said it will. For example, will the Mark Twain Transmission Project actually increase the areas which can receive coverage? Are there currently places in Missouri with limited access to electricity that would then have the ability to be better connected to the grid? Or is it a matter of the quantity, that the available transmission means in affected areas demands a load pushing the capacity? Or even a third option, dare we say it — will this project lower energy costs for the affected areas?

Looking at the stark opposition online, at the open public forums and throughout the Kirksville community alone, Ameren needs to realize it will take more than a few talking points and peace talks to silence or satisfy the people whose homes and communities would be affected by this project. In this case, does the end justify the means? Neighbors United is making it very clear that its members don’t think it does. We encourage community members to continue to ask questions and Ameren representatives to continue answering them. We, the Editorial Board, commit to joining the discussion with questions of our own during the coming weeks, in the hope that together we can work toward a consensus for what will be best for our community.

To read our news story about Neighbors United’s efforts, click here.


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