Illinois has become the frontline in the battleground of Midwestern energy transmission. But, for many residents, the argument isn’t with wind energy production itself. Instead, the controversy lies with how to get that wind energy from point A to point B.
With the growth of wind energy, Renewable Portfolio Standard mandates reliability issues, and transmission lines are popping up all over the country.
Rock Island Clean Line is just one of those proposed lines. The 500-mile overhead high-voltage direct current line in northern Illinois will transmit wind energy produced at point A, in Iowa and further west, to point B, a conversion station in Grundy County. In addition to Rock Island Clean Line, several other transmission lines are currently in the works or proposed in Illinois.
The Grain Belt Express and the Illinois Rivers Project are two such projects. Owned by the same company as Rock Island Clean Line, Grain Belt Express Clean Line is set to travel through several Midwestern states, including Illinois, and stretch more than 750 miles.
The Illinois Rivers Project by Ameren will span 380 miles, 18 Illinois counties and three states. But opposition to the expedited review process that Ameren chose to pursue before the Illinois Commerce Commission for the project is growing at a rapid pace.
It’s easy to see the benefits of renewable energy projects, but the issue with transmission lines is a bit more complicated. Farmers and landowners oppose the transmission lines because they don’t always follow established routes. Instead, they cut through farmland, leaving thousands of acres of farm ground dotted with lines and towers, making farming much more difficult.
In most cases, transmission lines cut through open farmland diagonally, in the shortest possible distance, rather than following the roads, property lines or field lines.
In the case of Rock Island Clean Line, the electricity is ultimately destined for Chicago and markets east of Illinois. In other words, this transmission line is like a one-way interstate highway with no on ramp, and only one off ramp in Illinois.
Rock Island Clean Line also is seeking public utility status from the Illinois Commerce Commission, which would be the first step toward the company receiving eminent domain authority. If landowners in the area want to grant an easement to Rock Island Clean Line, they have that option, but Illinois Farm Bureau opposes granting a private company public utility status for a merchant transmission line, especially when the need for the line has been questioned.
Renewable fuels like biodiesel, ethanol and wind energy are necessary for our continued growth and energy independence. However, these must be considered with care and thought. Companies should work together with farmers and landowners to put a long-term plan in place. A comprehensive approach that minimizes the impact on farmland, rather than a case by case approach, will create the best outcome for everyone.
• Philip Nelson of Seneca is the 14th president of the Illinois Farm Bureau and serves as full-time executive officer. He is president of the companies that make up COUNTRY Financial, Illinois Agricultural Service Company and the IAA Foundation. He also serves on the Coordinating Committee of GROWMARK.