That's sort of what happened with Clean Line's Mark Lawlor after the Missouri PSC denied Grain Belt's application.
It took a while for Clean Line to stiffen its upper lip and say anything. The first words were Michael Skelly casting aspersions on Missouri, its institutions, its government, its people. And then he said:
“We will review the order in detail to determine next steps for the project,” adds Skelly. “We are currently assessing all existing authorities available to move the Grain Belt Express project forward, including but not limited to legal appeals.”
Clean Line executives said Wednesday that they were weighing their options for the Grain Belt Express power line, though they acknowledged that the “legal and regulatory conundrum” could add many months or years to the project if they decide to keep trying.
And remember, GBE's attorney promised the PSC that a dismissal would mean the project is dead and that a separate but ineffective favorable opinion would only be used to convince the counties to grant assent. Unfortunately, some of the PSC Commissioners took him at his word.
Sometime later Wednesday afternoon Mark Lawlor got ahold of that lollipop and went on a sugar-fueled romp among the media, supposing all sorts of things he could do to move a dead and denied GBE project forward. Each comment got more outrageous until Mark's pinnacle with a Fox News station out of Illinois, where he said,
"So, the Grain Belt Project will deliver enough power for over a million homes, and will do so at costs that are extremely competitive with wind energy that is clean and renewable.”
What other stupid things did he say?
“We absolutely want to do the project,” said Mark Lawlor, development director for Grain Belt Express. But he added: “Unfortunately, the message that we’re getting from Missouri is that investments of these kind might be better spent in other places.”
Lawlor said the four commissioners’ belief that the project was worthwhile but not approvable under state law “makes for an interesting argument” if Clean Line decides to instead seek federal permission to proceed.
Clean Line director of development Mark Lawlor said another hearing would be sought, but that the company also was exploring legal options.
He added that Clean Line would push ahead with the project, despite the setback in Missouri.
“This is a Missouri problem, it’s not just a Grain Belt problem. This says any transmission line looking to build in Missouri cannot set foot on the commission’s doorstep until there’s permission from counties for a road permit,” said Lawlor.
“It’s too important to our country, and to our energy future, to just walk away,” said Lawlor. “This project is just as valuable today as when we started and probably more so.”
The project’s developers and other supporters harshly criticized Wednesday’s PSC ruling.
“It’s going to apply to future infrastructure projects — not just ours, but anyone who wants to come to Missouri and build transmission lines or pipelines, they’re gonna pay attention to this,” said Mark Lawlor, vice president at Clean Line. “It sends a bad signal to the marketplace.”
He argued that Grain Belt Express and projects of statewide significance should be decided by the PSC.
“It’s certainly not what the legislature intended,” Lawlor said. “It’s certainly not how the commission has worked in its 113-year history, but that’s somehow where we found ourselves today.”
Lawlor said Clean Line would need time to determine its next course of action.
A lawyer representing clean-energy interests said that another appeal is a near-certainty. Mark Lawlor, Clean Line’s vice president for development, wasn’t quite as definite.
“I think it’s sort of placed the burden on Clean Line to go ask the courts to sort this out,” he said. “Because of this legal quagmire, the project can’t move forward. It’s a broken system. It’s a problem for Missouri.”
Lawlor said there are a few options that he and his staff are evaluating. One is to essentially take the case back to the state appeals court – the same body that took the position that in part has led to this “quagmire,” as Lawlor called it.
There is actually a chance that the same court that ruled against Clean Line’s interests could see things differently, according to Renew Missouri’s James Owen.
“There are aspects of this that haven’t been presented before,” he said. “We can point out things that haven’t been thought about.”
The legislature is another avenue, according to Lawlor. He suggested they might want to study the pertinent law and ask themselves, “Is this what we meant to do here? Is this what we want, to have county commissions decide which infrastructure moves forward in the state?
“It would be in legislature’s interests to sort this out.”
There is also a federal avenue through which Lawlor said private developers can partner with the Department of Energy to develop infrastructure.
But Lawlor claims that the issue goes beyond Clean Line’s desire to build a high-voltage transmission line across Missouri. The new administration of Gov. Eric Greitens “has made a point of saying, ‘Missouri is open for business, we want investment in our state.’
“This decision runs counter to that.” As it now stands, he predicted that, “Other investors are going to look at Missouri and this will enter into their decision as to whether this is a good place to invest money.”
Lawlor's false bravado seems to have rubbed off on Clean Line president Michael Skelly the next day. Skelly says:
“It’s impossible if you’re building a multi-state transmission line to get agreements from all 30 counties that you might cross,” said Michael Skelly, the president of Houston-based Clean Line, which is planning about $9 billion of power lines across the Great Plains, Midwest and the Southwest.
Clean Line has at least three options it is considering, according to Skelly. It can appeal the decision, seek a change of state law or bypass the state by asking the U.S. Energy Department to approve it.
“If none of those three work, we’re toast,” Skelly said in an interview Wednesday.
Clean Line’s other options, said spokesperson Sarah Bray, include asking the PSC for a rehearing, working with the state’s legislature to revise pertinent laws or seeking U.S. Energy Department approval under Section 1222 of the 2005 Energy Policy Act. The latter would authorize the department to take part in “designing, developing, constructing, operating, maintaining or owning” new transmission.
“The project is certainly not dead,” Bray said.
Bray told RTO Insider that Clean Line was “encouraged by the PSC’s determination that the project is in the public interest and will benefit the State of Missouri.”
And what are Clean Line's options?
- Seek rehearing. Will the PSC suddenly change its mind and do something the courts said was illegal and issue GBE a permit? No, that's not realistic. But a request for rehearing is prerequisite to appeal.
- Appeal the PSC's denial to the Missouri courts. Is the Western District Court of Appeals going to reverse itself? There are no new arguments on this issue. It's all been said and done before and the appeals court and the Missouri Supreme Court rejected them all. What makes Clean Line think it's different or special at this point in time? The law is the law. The courts follow the law.
- Repeal or replace Sec. 229-100 of Missouri law that says a transmission project must have the assent of the county commissions through which it passes. Read this carefully. Is Missouri really going to give up local control to have its fate dictated to by out-of-state companies with foreign investors? This statute has been in effect for years. It's not realistic to think it can be legislated away at the request of some Texas company in a big fat hurry. This is unlikely to happen, even if Clean Line spends years buying support to repeal it.
- Ask the U.S. DOE to partner on this project under Sec. 1222 of the Energy Policy Act. Does Clean Line have $100M lying around to fund another 1222 process? Even if it did, the federal government wants to sell the power marketing authorities that would partner under Sec. 1222. Once sold, the PMAs would no longer have any government authority, but would be owned by private entities that have to adhere to state law. And let's be realistic here... even with Sec. 1222 being used on Clean Line's Plains & Eastern project to usurp state authority, that project is going nowhere. It's dead. No activity. Sitting in limbo. Has no customers to fund it.
And then let's talk about Illinois, where the Supreme Court has taken up the issue of whether or not Clean Line is a public utility that should be granted eminent domain authority. Even if Clean Line spends all this money trying to bust through Missouri's brick wall, eventually the Illinois Supreme Court is going to issue a ruling that can nullify it. All of it. It doesn't matter what Missouri thinks if the Illinois permit is vacated. Why waste a bunch of time and money in Missouri when it can all be for naught once Illinois rules? I thought Clean Line put spending money in Iowa on hold pending the Illinois outcome. But yet they want to do that exact thing in Missouri?
Honestly, these guys are dumber than a box of rocks. It sounds to me like they're just spewing out a bunch of empty threats and big talk that they can't accomplish. Perhaps they'll come down off their sugar high soon? Because Clean Line is dead. Go away, Clean Line. You will never succeed.