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Farm Bureau objects to Clean Line

Rezin joins opponent Benson in opposing project

Published: Friday, Oct. 26, 2012 7:14 a.m. CDT

Since the Rock Island Clean Line officially applied to the ICC with a proposed route, some local officials have filed their objections to the proposal.

Clean Line Energy Partners is planning to install part of its transmission line in Grundy County to deliver wind energy from areas of the Midwest to the east. The company is looking to bring its Rock Island Clean Line to deliver 3,500 megawatts of renewable energy to communities that do not have easy access to wind energy.

Earlier this month Clean Line withdrew its 2010 application with the Illinois Commerce Commission and submitted a new one for both public utility status and for approval to construct the line on its chosen route.

Clean Line officials say the transmission lines will result in billions of dollars invested in wind farms, putting thousands to work building turbine materials and constructing the turbines. In addition, there will be local jobs with the construction of a $250 million converter station at Channahon.

About 1,400 construction jobs a year are expected in Illinois for three years as a result of the entire project, said Hans Detweiler, Clean Line Energy Partners director of development, previously. Grundy County will be the end of this line, where the energy is converted into usable voltage and run through the old Collins substation to move the power east.

The Illinois Farm Bureau opposes the project and filed a petition to intervene Friday, said Laura Harmon, attorney for the Farm Bureau.

Clean Line is a private company, not a public utility company, and Illinois wind farms cannot tap into Clean Line's transmission lines, said Harmon. Therefore they should not be given public utility status, which could lead to the power of eminent domain — the ability to take private property.

Clean Line is applying for public utility status because it has to in order to have a legal line, Detweiler said before. He has maintained that Clean Line is committed to volunteer negotiations with landowners for easements for the towers. Eminent domain would not be appropriate to request until all efforts for volunteer negotiations have failed, he said.

Harmon is advising all members of the state Farm Bureau not to sign anything with Clean Line until they obtain an attorney with experience in utility easements.

The Farm Bureau has other concerns as well. Harmon said Iowa has numerous transmission line projects and, if they're approved in Iowa, they intend to come through Illinois, so Illinois could have numerous lines coming through.

The large amount of farm land that would be out of production is too costly, she said.

The Farm Bureau wants the line to use monopole support structures, rather than lattice structures, which take up more farm land at the base.

"They are more difficult to farm around," said Harmon.

Of the 500 miles the line is proposed to go across, 120 miles are in Illinois. Less than 3,000 acres in Illinois are being purchased for easements to put the towers on, said Detweiler. Of the 3,000 acres, 12 acres will be taken up by the tower footings. Clean Line has maintained that row crops such as corn and soybeans can still be farmed around the towers and under the lines.

"We have not yet made a final selection of structure types," said Detweiler Thursday. "We are still several years from construction and cannot lock in pricing at this point and so need flexibility on structure types for a while. In our filing with the ICC, we filed a family of structures that includes both types. 

"Most importantly  — we look forward to working with the Farm Bureau on all of the issues they identify as concerns."

The parties are also in disagreement on the route the line takes.

"We want it to follow existing rights-of-way . . . instead of the route cutting diagonally through farmland. A straight line wouldn't have such a negative impact on farm land," said Harmon.

The Farm Bureau feels the company should build the transmission line adjacent to the Interstate 80 right-of-way and current property lines.  

Detweiler said previously Clean Line looked at multiple routes during its two years of preparation, and it looked at following I-80 twice. But that route was too close to too many homes, he said.
POLITICAL POSITIONS

State Senator Sue Rezin, R-Morris, has written a letter to the ICC requesting it reject the proposal. Her opponent, Christine Benson, D-Ottawa, opposed the project first.

Rezin said she's been studying the project and receiving numerous calls from constituents. She said she could not take an official stance until she saw the route Clean Line chose.

The project, she said, "does more harm than good."

"I oppose the project and the current path as it runs through some of the greatest farmland in the world," said Rezin in a release. "The project has failed to show its necessity to Illinois electric consumers, only serves to help Iowa wind farms, and it has chosen a path that is harmful to the Illinois agricultural industry."

Benson said the release of the route didn't matter.

“This new route changes nothing. As I have stated from the beginning, the RICL has no positive impact on the state of Illinois. Our current wind and solar providers cannot tie into it, it provides no local jobs, and it takes farmland, with no benefit to the state or residents," she said in a release.

Clean Line says the benefits Illinois will see include decreased power costs due to increased competition. Detweiler compared it to the growth and delivery of corn.

"If you deliver a huge amount of corn into the county it's going to lower corn prices and people benefit regardless (of who they buy from) . . . everybody buys the market price. The prices are lower either way," he said previously.

In addition, Clean Line is investing millions into Grundy County with the construction of the $250 million converter station in Channahon and its agreements with the counties it goes through, giving it $7,000 a mile a year.

Rezin recognizes this, but the loss of farmland and potential food producers outweighs this, she said last week.

In the Mendota area, much of the farmland is used by a large food producer that may pull out if it cannot aerial spray, she said. With the towers, farmers could be forced to spray their crops from the ground.

Detweiler said Wednesday Clean Line understands the concerns, but can't please everyone.

"It's disappointing that (Sen. Rezin) is not supporting the project, but we still look forward to working with her," he said.

People need to look at the big picture, he said, not just the partial impacts.

"They need to study the individual projects, see if the benefits outweigh the costs and if they do, go forward," Detweiler said.

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