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Public pushes Grundy to wait for ICC decision

Published: Friday, July 18, 2014 8:46 p.m. CST

MORRIS – It may be a while before the Grundy County Board reaches a decision regarding the Rock Island Clean Line converter station project.

“It will be on the agenda for the August board meeting, but there are board members who feel it should be tabled,” Grundy County Board Chairman Ron Severson said.

After a public hearing Thursday, which featured numerous presenters and public commenters, the County Board will further consider whether or not Grundy County should house the $300 million station.

The public meeting lasted more than three hours Thursday night and had about 40 members from the public present.

The proposed station would be the ending point for a 500-mile direct current energy transmission line. The line would pipe wind energy from Iowa to Grundy County, where the energy could be converted into alternate current electricity and injected into the power grid, servicing Chicago and the East Coast.

Before reaching the station, the transmission line would cut through numerous Illinois and Iowa farms, including some within Grundy County. The company could possibly use eminent domain to build the line if farmers don’t voluntarily sign off on RICL compensation agreements.

Despite its economic draw, several aspects of the $2 billion project have been scrutinized by members of the Illinois Commerce Commission, the Illinois Farm Bureau, Commonwealth Edison, numerous landowners and a handful of politicians – including state Sen. Sue Rezin, R-Morris, who sent a representative to speak on her behalf Thursday.

“I strongly oppose the project and the current path as it runs through some of the best farmland in the world,” Rezin wrote in a letter opposing RICL which was read Thursday. “The project has failed to show its necessity to Illinois electric consumers and has chosen a path that is harmful to the Illinois agricultural industry.”

The fate of the entire project rests with the Illinois Commerce Commission, which is reviewing it.

Grundy County’s role is tied to the converter station, which is projected to bring several million dollars in tax revenue throughout the next 15 years, and possibly longer.

“The agreement that we have in place with Clean Line will provide significant future revenues for the foreseeable future,” Saratoga School District Superintendent Kathy Perry said at the meeting.

Saratoga School District and Morris Community High School District 101 would receive millions in revenue from the converter station project.

Two years ago, the county and Clean Line signed a term sheet that spelled out the specific tax abatements Clean Line would receive for building the converter station.

Now, Clean Line is asking the county to commit to those abatements, as previously promised, and move forward with station.

“Whether this [RICL] project is needed in Illinois or not is not a Grundy County decision. It is an ICC decision,” said Nancy Norton Ammer, CEO of the Grundy Economic Development Council.

“What stands before you tonight is – do you incent the converter station to Grundy County for 10 percent of the tax bill, or don’t you,” Ammer continued.

After all of Thursday night’s testimonies, one major question emerged and was left unanswered – what happens if Grundy County votes down the converter station?

“I don’t know what would would happen,” Clean Line Project Manager Amy Kurt said. “But I hope that I don’t have to pursue those conversations.”

A viable option would be to move the converter station into Kendall County, Kurt said. It was not clear whether Clean Line would have to reapply their entire project with the ICC – a lengthy process – to change the location of the station.

If the station is moved to Kendall, Kurt said Clean Line would likely still cut through Grundy County, perhaps with even larger alternating current transmission lines.

However, getting the project approved in Kendall County would likely be a very long process, and Kurt said Clean Line intends to work with Grundy County for the project.

Board members were encouraged by several public speakers to await ICC approval of the project before deciding on the converter station.

“If I was on the County Board, I would certainly wait for the ICC,” Illinois Landowner Alliance member speaker Paul Marshall said after the meeting.

County Board member and RICL negotiation chairman Chris Balkema advised the board otherwise, stressing that if it waits now, the opportunity may pass them by.

“We could table it for August. We could table it for September,” Balkema said. “We could table it, but at some point a tabled vote would end up, by default, being a no vote.”

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