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Grain Belt Express developer says new $7 billion plan will boost wind energy power

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ST. LOUIS — A developer aiming to deliver wind energy across an 800-mile transmission line that’s long been stalled in Missouri announced Monday that it will expand the project’s capacity for even more power.

Invenergy, the Chicago-based company attempting to build the Grain Belt Express, now says the transmission project will have the capacity to carry 25% more power than originally planned, including more energy to Missouri.

“We heard that story over and over: ‘We want to see more of it brought to Missouri,’” said Shashank Sane, who leads Invenergy’s transmission business, after a Monday news conference in St. Louis. “It was really about bringing benefits to the state.”

The Great Belt Express faced years of delays amid political and legal challenges in Missouri until May when state legislators agreed not to block the project. Invenergy’s plans call for the line to stretch from Kansas to Indiana, on a route crossing Missouri and Illinois.

The planned “enhancements” add to a growing price tag for the project, now expected to attract about $7 billion in investment, Invenergy said, up from earlier cost estimates of $2 billion. Meanwhile, its boost in power capacity will enable it to deliver 5,000 megawatts of power — the equivalent of roughly four new nuclear power plants, according to the company.

The project will help unlock $7.5 billion in energy cost savings in Missouri and Illinois over 15 years, Invenergy said.

Nearly 40 municipal utilities in Missouri have long intended to buy power from the project, but now five times as much electricity will be delivered to the state — rising from 500 to 2,500 megawatts, compared with earlier plans.

Invenergy did not disclose which Missouri entities it expects will buy the additional power, but it is “confident that the customer base is there,” said Sane.

Ameren, St. Louis’ monopolized power utility, might be one option. In recent long-term planning reports, the company has evaluated the “potential value” of using the project to bring 1,000 megawatts of power capacity to its Missouri service territory — roughly as much as Ameren’s nearly 1,200-megawatt capacity of the company’s second-largest coal-fired power plant that was recently slated for an early retirement.

Monday’s Grain Belt Express announcement drew praise from a diverse range of supporters, from county-level officials along the project’s path to leaders of industrial groups like the Illinois Manufacturers’ Association and the Associated Industries of Missouri. Many touted the project’s expected benefits for energy prices and reliability, particularly at a time when both have been areas of simmering concern.

Invenergy still has to complete additional steps before the line can be built — like acquiring more land along its route.

The company also said Monday that it aims to build the project in phases, starting with the first portion running from Kansas to Monroe County in northeast Missouri. It owns about 82% of the easements needed for that portion, the company said.

Missouri lawmakers won’t block Grain Belt, but future utility lines may face new limits
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