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Farmers object wind energy project to County Board

Published: Wednesday, July 9, 2014 8:23 p.m. CDT • Updated: Thursday, July 10, 2014 9:02 p.m. CDT

MORRIS – Vocal, vehement opposition from local farmers and landowners has put a $300 million Grundy County project on hold.

It’s known as the Rock Island Clean Line Energy project, and it involves channeling 3,500 megawatts of wind energy from Iowa to Illinois through a series of above-ground transmission lines.

The electricity pipeline would begin in O’Brien County, Iowa, and span 500 miles, ending at a large converter station in Grundy County.

At the station, electricity would be converted from direct current into alternating current energy and then injected into the power grid. The energy would power homes throughout the Midwest and as far as the East Coast.

Before reaching the converter station – which would be located near the old Collins Station property – the energy line would traverse through a handful of Grundy County farms and properties.

Local landowners have expressed outrage at what they are calling “eminent domain.”

“It will slice right down the middle of some of the best farmland in Grundy, just north of where you sit,” said local farmer Henry Babson, who addressed the Grundy County Board on Tuesday night. “I can promise you I would still be opposed to this project, even if our farm was not its potential path, because it’s wrong for Morris, Grundy County and its residents.”

The Grundy County Board signed a term sheet in 2012, in which it committed to house the converter station. It also agreed to sign abatement agreements in good faith once certain state approvals were granted to Clean Line.

With those approvals in place, the abatement agreements were scheduled for approval at Tuesday’s board meeting, but members voted to table the agreements until next month.

“I think half of this board probably doesn’t know what this conversation is about, and I think this vote is just moving way too fast,” board member John Galloway said Tuesday.

The agreements have been in negotiations for about three years – and presented at multiple tax committee meetings – yet many County Board members said they were not clued into the project.

Clean Line Energy

project specifics

On average, about five transmission line structures would be built per mile. The structures would be about 150-feet high and would require concrete bases that are typically four to eight feet in width.

Per a mitigation agreement with the Illinois Department of Agriculture, Clean Line is required to adhere to those standards and to pay landowners for any damaged drainage tiles.

Clean Line is offering compensation packages to the landowners. The company would work to sign off on voluntary agreements with each landowner, Clean Line Project Manager Amy Kurt said Wednesday.

In Grundy County, landowners would be paid a one-time payment of $10,200 per acre of land, included in the easement area. Additionally, the owners would receive compensation for the structures on their land, which would be one-time or annual payments, whichever they choose.

Structure compensation ranges, but is typically a one-time payment of $6,000 per structure or $500 per structure, per year.

“We understand that farming is their business and we want to compensate them fairly,” Kurt said.

The converter station will receive tax abatement’s through Joliet Arsenal Development Authority Area, since it would lie just outside of Grundy County’s enterprise zone.

JADA was just approved for an extension into Grundy County so now the converter station would be eligible for JADA abatements.

All tax abatements considered, Grundy County would receive $135,000 in revenue a year, for the first 15 years. Beginning in 2033, the county would receive $314,000 in revenue per year until 2043 when the figure would jump to $482,000 per year.

Those revenues would not be divided with Saratoga School and Morris Community High School, which would receive a separate payout of $4.5 million for their first 15 years.

Moving forward

As of now, the project still is awaiting statewide approvals. The Illinois Commerce Commission is the project’s regulating entity, and its final word on the project is expected by summer or fall of 2014.

Approval from the Iowa Utilities Board also is needed and is expected by 2015, Kurt said.

If approvals follow the anticipated timeline, the company plans to begin construction of the station in 2016. It would be operational by 2018.

Clean Line will be holding an open workshop with county officials and members of the public sometime this month.

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