Clean Line Energy’s proposal to construct a suspended power line through northern La Salle County farmland was met with defiance by hundreds of property owners during a Wednesday open house regarding the project.
But despite public protest, now may be property owners’ only chance to give input on the project before eminent domain law forces their hands.
Clean Line Energy’s project, the Rock Island Clean Line, will connect 3,500 megawatts of wind turbine generated power from wind farms in Iowa, Nebraska, South Dakota and Minnesota to communities in Illinois and eastern states as far as Maryland. That much energy would power 1.4 million homes annually.
To do this, the company proposes to build a High Voltage Direct Current transmission line from just south of Cordova to a converter station southeast of Morris that will require it to gain easements through thousands of properties along the way.
If construction begins in 2014 as planned, the $1.7 billion project is expected to create 5,000 construction jobs, 500 operations jobs, increase energy market competition which generally leads to lower prices and generate millions of dollars per year in property tax payments, according to company officials.
“We want to build an HVDC line from renewable sources in the center of the country to places far out east that need it,” said Hans Detweiler, director of development for Clean Line Energy. “We’re here tonight to show our preliminary plans and we’re asking people to help us improve our data.”
The need for green
As the federal and state governments demand “greener” energy portfolios wind power producers are discovering there is no cost effective way to transmit wind generated power from the central U.S. – which boasts some of the best wind energy resources in the world – over current power lines which can only transmit alternating current.
Also, direct current converter stations such as the one near Morris are so expensive to build it wouldn’t make financial sense to use direct current beyond a transportation distance of 500 miles or more, Detweiler said.
“It just wouldn’t be equitable to use DC to take power from a wind turbine in Mendota to Princeton,” he said. “That’s why most of the power lines in the central U.S. are AC, which is more cost effective over a short distance. But it’s also why local wind turbines won’t be able to connect onto an HVDC line.”
Clean Line Energy has applied to become a public utility with Illinois Commerce Commission.
If approved, the company could use its power of eminent domain to force easements on property owners without their consent, but with compensation.
But first, Detweiler said the company is trying to gain as many voluntary easements as possible while explaining compensation packages they are offering.
What’s in it for you?
For example, property owners would be compensated for each easement – estimated to be about 175-feet wide – and for each monopoles or lattice towers that are constructed on their property.
So, a property owner giving up 10.6 acres of property for a ½-mile section of power line would receive a one-time payment of $88,320 for an easement with two monopoles or $112,320 for an easement with two lattice towers. This is based on a land value of $8,000 per acre.
Steve Campbell of Earlville, who owns property along East 12th Road where he grows corn and beans, said he is still against the project despite the compensation for the easement.
“They couldn’t pay me enough for my land,” Campbell said. “Once we give them an easement it’s as good as gone. I don’t see why they don’t go down along I-80 or something.”
Lillian Sparks, who owns about 11 acres along North 4250th Road near Mendota, said she is against the project for health concerns.
“If they come through we’ll have to move,” she said. “We bought our home about 10 years ago and wanted to live there for life. The health effects of a power line so close and what it will do to the value of our property…I don’t know what we can do. It seems like it’s going to happen one way or the other.”
The Rock Island Clean Line project was named as such because it was originally intended to follow the Rock Island railway which would keep as much of the power lines away from people as possible.
Detweiler said the problem the company has experienced is that many cities and villages boomed along railways so going that route would not meet with the company’s policy. Environmental laws prevent the lines from being built too close to waterways, so the most equitable way for the company to construct the lines is to go through farmland properties.
He added that HVDC lines do not pose any health risks to people or livestock.
Still, Rachel Van Drimmelen, who attended the open house on behalf of her parents who own property along U.S. 52 north of Utica, said she needs time to think and do more research.
“I’m not sure what to think yet,” she said. “It feels intrusive. I want to learn more before I make a decision.”
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