As Rock Island Clean Line waits to see if its project is approved by the ICC, it continues to move forward with steps to try to please possibly affected landowners.
Last week, Clean Line Energy Partners signed onto an agricultural impact mitigation agreement with the Illinois Department of Agriculture, which sets standards the company has to meet for minimal impact to agricultural land throughout the construction process if its project is approved.
These type of agreements are typical for large electrical lines, said Hans Detweiler, Clean Line Energy Partners director of development. But this agreement contains some firsts.
Clean Line is planning to install part of its 500-mile 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.
In October, 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.
The Illinois Farm Bureau opposes the project and filed a petition, also in October, to intervene. It stated then Clean Line is a private company, not a public utility company, and Illinois wind farms cannot tap into Clean Line’s transmission lines. Therefore, they believe Clean Line should not be given public utility status, which could lead to the power of eminent domain — the ability to take private property.
“We think it is good that it is signed, but it doesn’t change our position on the project,” said Laura Harmon, assistant general counsel for the Illinois Farm Bureau, regarding the mitigation agreement. “The Illinois Farm Bureau is still opposed.”
Clean Line has maintained it needs public utility status in order to have a legal line, Detweiler said before. He has said Clean Line is committed to voluntary negotiations with landowners for easements for the towers. Eminent domain would not be appropriate to request until all efforts for voluntary negotiations have failed.
Detweiler said Thursday a decision on whether the ICC will approve the project is not expected until early next year. It will take the summer to go through procedures with the involved parties and, at some point, the ICC will hold a public hearing. An evidentiary hearing will be held in December.
“This is the first project (in Illinois) that includes standards for organic farms,” said Detweiler.
Surveys will be sent to landowners to identify if they run an organic farm, he said, and, if so, Clean Line will work to avoid using treated wood for construction matting, as well as not using herbicide and fertilizer use.
In the agreement, Clean Line also agrees to use monopole support structures, rather than lattice structures. Landowners and the state Farm Bureau wanted monopole structures used because they take up less land.
Detweiler said lattice type structures may have to be used for certain situations, such as turns in the route and long spans such as river crossings.
“Another unusual aspect is the independent agricultural inspector available to landowners,” he said.
As part of the mitigation agreement with the Department of Agriculture, Clean Line will make available an inspector to landowners if, while construction is under way, they are concerned the standards are not being followed.
Detweiler said Illinois does not require this, but an inspector is required in Minnesota and they thought it would be best practice to do in Illinois.
“This is the first step, not the last step, and we look forward to working with the landowners,” he said.
Harmon of the Farm Bureau said typically an agreement with the Department of Agriculture is done before an application is filed with the ICC. Although they are happy to see this done, the department had to intervene to get this done.
The Farm Bureau continues to oppose the project because Clean Line is not a public company and, therefore, it doesn’t deserve that status from the ICC, she said, which could give them the power of eminent domain.
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 Detweiler 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 entire agricultural impact mitigation agreement can be found at www.rockislandcleanline.com.