Energy transmission projects like Grain Belt Express key to prevent Missouri outages

Ray McCarty
·3 min read

There are many issues that keep business owners up at night, and until this winter, that long list didn’t necessarily include electricity reliability.

But with emergency outages affecting whole regions of the country, including parts of Missouri, we have now witnessed just how debilitating these energy disruptions can be. Preventing these kinds of regional power supply crises is key to economic growth in our state.

At the height of the energy crisis in February, Missouri Public Service Commission Chairman Ryan Silvey tweeted this plea to policymakers: “Maybe when this is all over we can have real conversations about the importance of transmission.”

The former state senator hit the nail on the head. To prevent these further outages, we need increased energy transmission so infrastructure is in place when regional conditions require grid operators to import supply from other regions.

The Missouri-approved Grain Belt Express high voltage direct current transmission line will provide this infrastructure. Because the 4,000-megawatt transmission line connects three regional power markets — the Southwest Power Pool, the Midcontinent Independent System Operator and PJM Interconnection — the line will play a key role in avoiding future weather-related grid disruptions when its construction is complete.

While the Grain Belt Express will mostly be bringing low-cost energy from the west to Missouri and Illinois, it is engineered to move power along the line in either direction, and it will be able to reverse flows in seconds when called upon under emergency conditions.

Businesses across parts of Missouri experienced emergency outages on Feb. 15 and 16 when the Southwest Power Pool faced regionwide power supply deficits. Calls to conserve energy weren’t enough as the grid operator entered what’s known as Energy Emergency Alert Level 3, which triggered controlled shutdowns for all of its utility members across several states. If the Grain Belt Express had already been in service, the transmission line could have exported power from PJM Interconnection, which had ample supply, and could have helped minimize or avoid altogether the need for these outages in Missouri.

This makes attempts by some in the Missouri legislature to retroactively kill the already-approved Grain Belt Express project even more shortsighted. This project, which has asked for no state subsidies, will be one of the state’s largest energy infrastructure developments, creating 1,500 construction jobs, generating millions annually in new tax revenues for eight Missouri counties, and putting approximately $35 million in easement payments in the hands of landowners across the state. The line will provide power for at least 39 Missouri communities, saving $12 million annually for families and businesses.

In today’s technology-rich world, Missouri manufacturers, farmers, schools, hospitals and businesses of all sizes increasingly rely on an affordable, reliable power supply to operate. Even a few hours without power can bring serious economic loss and create dangerous situations in businesses already hard hit by the COVID-19 economy. The reliability of our power supply has never been so important.

The Grain Belt Express will put hundreds of millions of dollars into Missouri’s economy, and it comes at a perfect time. The reliability and low-cost energy the transmission line will bring to our power grid in Missouri is more important than ever to the Missouri economy.

Ray McCarty is president and CEO of Associated Industries of Missouri.