MENDOTA – Eggs, bacon and the subtle presence of the Mendota Police Department meant Clean Line Energy representatives were prepared for a tough crowd during Friday morning’s electric transmission project open house at Mendota Civic Center.
While those with the more serious criticisms and complaints declined to be interviewed they weren’t shy when addressing the company’s representatives. The team from the Texas-based company seemed unfazed when responding to the pointed questions and skepticism expressed by landowners in the area surrounding Mendota.
Hans Detweiler, director of development, Sarah Bray, director of communications, and other representatives guided small groups through a presentation of the project that will construct a 500-mile high voltage direct current line from western Iowa through north central Illinois before terminating near Chicago.
The 3,500 megawatts of wind generated electricity transmitted on the line will then be converted to alternating current for use by approximately 1.4 million homes. The transmission towers won’t be as high as wind turbines and the spans will be one-quarter mile apart. HVDC requires two sets of conductors as opposed to the three conductors seen on existing AC power lines.
But first they have to get through La Salle and Bureau counties.
Landowners have dealt with energy developments before and they aren’t too keen on having another round of heavy construction equipment tearing up local roads and farms. They were skeptical about the easements that would be required and some were resigned to the eventuality of the project which did little to ease their concerns.
“You inherit the legacy of whatever project came before you,” Detweiler said about the skepticism.
His company was prepared for the criticisms and hopes they were able to address them. To show they are serious, they have filed an agriculture impact statement with the Illinois Department of Agriculture and will have an independent consultant monitoring the construction phase as well as respond to any problems that may occur later.
“In general, the commitment is to restore the land,” Detweiler said. “We know we’re going to bust up a lot of tile so we’re going to have to fix that; we’re going to have soil compaction issues so we’re going to have to repair that.”
The consultant also would address any future issues that could occur with drainage tiles or soil compaction even a year or more after construction is completed, Detweiler said.
He said the company may be new, but the management team has extensive experience in these types of projects and will draw from some of the best practices encountered in other states and other projects to help ease local concerns.
Detweiler said the company could ultimately file for eminent domain and take land for the construction of the towers that will carry the HVDC line, but he said they hoped to work with each landowner to come to a mutual agreement and the company is prepared to pay for the easements required.
The 150-200 foot wide easements would be in perpetuity along the line’s final route which won’t be determined for at least six more months. Actual payment amounts and schedules have not been determined yet but Detweiler said it could be a one-time payment or an annual payment over several years.
Unlike current wind turbines, the bases of the HVDC monopole towers are only 4 feet and Detweiler said the land can be farmed right up to the base. The towers don’t require a lot of maintenance so only a small drive across a ditch for possible access would be required when compared to the access required to maintain a wind turbine. The project also will use some lattice towers that have a wider base for crossing rivers and probably wouldn’t be used across farmland.
Mendota city engineer Ed King asked if the company had considered following existing infrastructure such as railroad lines and highways. Detweiler said this project is called the Rock Island Clean Line since it was originally envisioned as a new use for the former railroad line.
The only problem, Detweiler said, is neighborhoods and other developments have sprung up where the old line once ran which meant they had to seek a new route. The company is looking to follow U.S. 52 as closely as possible which would put it just north or south of Mendota. From there, they will need to cross the Fox River before heading into Grundy County.
Detailed maps of the proposed corridor gave people like Greta and Michael Bates the opportunity to point out any potential landmarks or small airstrips that could alter the final route. Detweiler said many times small country cemeteries and other features significant to the area aren’t on the maps. The open houses give residents a chance to pinpoint those areas.
La Salle County Board chairman Jerry Hicks attended the open house and said he has heard skepticism about the company’s plans.
“The questions are if they are truly going to make the landowners whole and hire locally,” he said.
Arnie and Linda Leder currently are dissatisfied with a natural gas pipeline that went near their property but are resigned to the eventuality of the HVDC line.
“It’s always inconvenient,” Arnie Leder said. “I don’t want it in my front yard.”
Yet, they are interested in the concept of carrying that much electricity from wind farms in the western plains states to the more energy-hungry eastern side of the United States.
“You could literally take 3½ of our nuclear plants out of service with that 3.5 megawatts,” he said. “You don’t have to worry about (the line) melting down and contaminating the environment.”
The U.S. electric grid is set up for delivering alternating current along shorter spans than the 500 miles projected by Clean Line. The company will convert the AC generated from the western wind farms into DC before converting it back into AC once it reaches the Chicago area.
Local wind farms will not be placed on the new transmission line due to the expense of converting the current. Detweiler said there is only one other HVDC transmission line in the country and that’s in Minnesota. In addition to the Rock Island Clean Line, the company has several other projects in development around the country. Detweiler said the efficient transmission of wind-generated electricity should drive down electric costs while increasing demand for wind farms along with the manufacturing and jobs that go with those projects.
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