I am writing in response to the article that appeared in last Thursday’s Republican titled, “Energy ‘toll road’ could go through Bureau, Henry counties.”
I am leery of companies with names like Clean Line Energy Partners which seem concocted by a public relations firm in a Michael Moore movie. I am doubly leery of a company that stages its only meeting in the county from 11 a.m. until 1 p.m. on a workday.
Therefore, my interest engaged, I asked a researcher who works with me to pull together what he could on direct-current transmission and Clean Line Energy Partners, and thanks to an introduction from a client, I then talked with the recently retired CEO of a major electrical transmission company.
After taking some teasing from the retired CEO about NIMBY—not in my backyard— I heard about the lack of national energy policy, and the difficulties of integrating wind power and direct-current transmission in particular into the power grid. Yet I gained some context for what I had read, and my being leery moved to skepticism to opposition to the project. To the point that I will do all that I can with regulators and legislators to resist the project in Bureau County and to foster public opposition.
First, transmission towers are unsightly and dangerous, making it difficult to sell homes within a several mile swath on the transmission lines and will reduce home values. This could very well be fatal for towns like Manlius, Kasbeer, Ohio and LaMoille. The county might benefit from the tax revenues and farmers from the leases, but hundreds of families would bear a terrible price and county’s property tax base would certainly erode.
Second, transmission lines generate coronas in winds that generate toxic compounds such as nitrogen oxide and ozone, and create the potential for making people sick.
Studies by the World Health Organization and the National Institute of Health have found statistical correlation between disease and living near high-voltage power lines, particularly childhood leukemia.
Third, I have come to doubt the project can be prudently capitalized.
Investors in Clean Line Energy Partners include the Zilkha family from Houston and Ziff Brothers Investments, a venture capital fund in New York who are wealthy, but not by the standards of utilities.
The Rock Island Clean Line will cost between $1.7 and $2 billion by its own estimates and will require significant debt in the form of junk bonds. In contrast, utilities have traditionally been well capitalized with high debt ratings. Chicago-based Exelon, for example has an enterprise value of $41 billion before its acquisition of Constellation Energy and an investment-grade credit rating.
If anything goes wrong – and things do go wrong and things do change – the spark spread shifts or Congress eliminates subsidies for wind power, The Rock Island Clean Line may not have staying power because of the high debt that will be incurred.
As you enter the county on Interstate 80, a billboard hails our “exceptional quality of life.” Let us not allow a project that could destroy that quality of life. We need development to be certain, but let us look to projects that develop the infrastructure of the county to our benefit, not to our detriment.
Gregory T. Carrott
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