HUMBOLDT – Potentially affected landowners and county officials were on hand Friday to seek information about a 3,500-megawatt direct current transmission line that will stretch 500 miles across Iowa, much of it through the north and north central part of the state.
Officials with Clean Lines Energy Partners, based in Houston, Texas, held an open house at the Humboldt County Fairgrounds to provide information about the planned project.
The line could potentially boost tax revenues for Webster, Humboldt, Pocahontas, Palo Alto, Kossuth, Wright and Hamilton counties, depending on where the line will be finally staged, at a stated rate of $7,000 per mile per year.
Cary Kottler, project development manager for Rock Island Clean Lines, met with government and economic development representatives last December to discuss stretching the line through Iowa.
On Friday, Kottler said the study corridor for the line has been determined, but the exact route has not been identified. That should happen later this summer and another set of meetings to reveal the exact route will be held “sometime after harvest” in order to meet with targeted landowners, he said.
Kottler said the company will be buying a 200-foot right of way for erecting poles, as well as compensating farmers and other landowners for such issues as field disruption, broken tiles and crop losses during construction.
Kottler acknowledged that right-of-way agreements will need to be secured along the final route.
Condemnation proceedings could be part of the process.
“But that would be our last resort,” he said.
Condemnation could be used to clear up issues of land ownership, he said.
Federal, state and local permits will also be required, especially if the line eventually crosses waterways. CLEP is also working out potential interconnect agreements.
Whether the right-of-way purchases will be one-time lump sum payments or annuities has not been determined.
“We won’t know until we’ve presented to the Iowa Utility Board,” he said.
The series of open houses have been well-attended, said Hans Detweiler, director of development for CLEP. He said the closer residents live to the start of the line, which will be sited in either O’Brien or Cherokee county, the more interest was shown due to the potential of wind farms cropping up to feed the new line.
CLEP, Kottler said, is determined to create as little disturbance on the land as possible while creating the transmission system, preferring to follow section lines, railroad rights of way and waterways. He said it will seek to avoid as many residential areas as possible, wildlife refuges, endangered habitats and recreational areas.
Myron and Mariann Cram drove down from southern Kossuth County after receiving an invitation from CLEP to attend the Friday open house. They have a farm that potentially could be in the path of the transmission lines.
Myron Cram said they wanted to know where exactly the route would be, but those specifics were not available.
Mariann Cram said that although she sees the need for the project, she’s concerned about having the poles across their farm land. She is also concerned about the health impact on livestock and humans living close to the high-voltage lines.
Detweiler said most health issues are from alternative current lines. Direct current lines are different, he said, citing studies from the World Health Organization, International Agency for Research on Cancer and the National Radiological Protection Board stating there are no adverse impacts on animals or people living under or near direct current lines.
Harlan Hansen, John Christianson and Carl Matthes, all members of the Humboldt County Board of Supervisors, said they see the potential influx of tax income as a boon to the county’s general fund. If there were 20 miles of line through the county, at $7,000 per mile, it would mean a $140,000 annual shot in the arm for the county.
Mattes said if the income is classified as an ag tax, it will lead to lowering the taxable value of ag land, bringing no additional revenue benefit to the county. However, if it goes into the general fund, as wind turbine taxes do, “then that will help our budget.”
All three men said there has been no discussion if the county would share the new revenue with cities and school districts, or if it would apply it to infrastructure improvements.
“Today is the first time we’ve heard this,” Christianson said.
A need to move power
The intent, according to Detweiler, is to spur additional wind turbine farm creation in northwest Iowa, northeast Nebraska and southwest South Dakota.
CLEP’s website – www.clealineenergy.com – said there is a potential for erecting as many as 2,000 new wind turbines, creating 3,500 megawatts of power, which would then be transferred from near Sioux City to Rock Island, Ill. From there, it would be used to supply power to Chicago and farther east. Potentially, there are 14 states that could benefit from the extra electricity.
The HVDC line would transmit enough electricity to power 1.4 million households.
“That’s more than Minnesota uses in a year,” Detweiler said.
In 2009, Iowa’s wind energy capabilities grew by 10,000 megawatts. This project would be roughly 25 percent of that single year’s advance, he said.
The $1.7 billion transmission line, according to Kottler, could spur an additional $7 billion in wind turbine investments within the three states, although CLEP would not be involved in creating those farms. He said there is the potential for a substantial number of the turbines to be erected in northwest Iowa.
Detweiler said the project is at the start of a four-phase, six-year development plan.
“Right now we are at phase one-half.”
Michael Skelly, president of Clean Line Energy Partners, said Midwest wind energy generation grew by 40 percent for each of the past several years, until construction of turbines came to a near halt in 2010.
“There’s plenty of wind out there,” Skelly said. The problem is that the transmission system is yet to become efficient. “We need to get the harvested wind energy to places that need it.”
According to Detweiler, the recent lack of growth of wind energy in the Midwest is due in part to a slow economy, but also to a lack of an efficient transmission.
“The primary purpose of (the HVDC) line is to move electricity from the west side of the state to (eastern urban communities) which need it,” Kottler said.
Because of the federal regulations that require line owners to allow interconnecting, Detweiler said there is the likelihood of additional revenue by other entities moving power along the system.
John Kramer, president of the Development Corporation of Fort Dodge and Webster County, favors the concept of the project.
He said that to expand the Midwest’s wind generation capacity, the existing grid system “is not up to this kind of development. The grid system is a limiting aspect of wind farm development.”
The Clean Lines transmission system has been publicly touted as a potential boon of wind energy generation for Webster County. But Kottler said that likely would not happen.
“Picture this line as an electric highway with very few on and off ramps,” Kottler said.
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