MENDOTA – Last summer, Rock Island Clean Line, a private company based in Texas, held public meetings in Mendota and across Illinois to propose running high-voltage DC (direct current) transmission lines through the state. They said the high-voltage lines would carry wind-powered energy generated in Iowa, Nebraska and South Dakota to Illinois and other states to the east. Rock Island Clean Line (RICL) also informed citizens that the project would “create thousands of jobs for local residents, generate millions of dollars in state and local tax revenues and address the nation’s ongoing efforts to increase energy security.”
However, no energy produced in Illinois, wind or otherwise, would be able to tap into their lines. As local farmers/landowners studied the proposal, they questioned how this could possibly benefit the state if locally produced energy was left out of the equation. Equally troubling was the far-reaching effect the project would have on agriculture – from land values and conservation to production.
In December, RICL returned to Mendota with a layout of two possible east-west corridors for the high-voltage line to run through LaSalle County. One corridor would be just north of Mendota and the other just to the south. Hundreds of concerned area landowners attended those meetings to look over huge plat maps and ask questions. For most, the answers they received were troubling and they began digging deeper. Meanwhile, residents of counties across Illinois had similar concerns.
With a growing consensus that the project would cause more harm than good on a number of levels, an organization called Block RICL formed. Comprised of multiple groups from across Illinois, their purpose is to stop RICL and other transmission projects proposed to cut through the state.
Locally, LaSalle County landowners have researched many facets of the proposed high-voltage line and they will share that information at a meeting on Wednesday, Aug. 29 at the Mendota Civic Center. Landowners and residents in or near the proposed routes are welcome to attend. Registration is from 6-6:45 p.m. and the meeting begins at 7 p.m.
Block RICL will address a number of issues during this informational meeting:
Temporary vs. permanent jobs – High-voltage DC transmission line construction is highly specialized and is only done by a few companies in the United States. Local construction jobs would be minimal with workers likely needed only for road building and concrete for tower foundations. Bob Dolder of rural Ottawa, a supporter of Block RICL, says the project will actually bring only a few short-term jobs to the state rather than permanent jobs. “Laborers would have some work initially but it will be temporary,” he said. “When it’s done, there won’t be any jobs. We will get virtually nothing from this.”
Local renewable energy production – In 2011, Illinois residents were committed by the legislature to pay $3.2 billion dollars to upgrade the state grid. Ed Doughty of rural Mendota explained that the new “Smart Grid” is supposed to help Illinois residents develop their own renewable energy and sell the excess back into the grid. “There’s plenty of wind power in Illinois,” he said. “There’s as much wind power available in Lake Michigan as anywhere in the United States, according to U.S. Department of Energy.”
Doughty also noted that Europe has quit funding their windmills and is now focused on offshore wind. “If you put them [windmills] offshore, you wouldn’t need high lines. They would be right where the power is most needed [in Chicago] and produced right in our own state.”
Save farmland – The current drought highlights the importance of every acre of farmland. Over 12,000 acres would likely be taken for easements alone. Doughty, who farms in rural Mendota, said the structures are proposed to cut through the middle of fields. With modern farming techniques, that would add to the time and cost of production. In addition, right-of-ways for the line would decrease land values by 25 percent and in turn, lower the tax base for nearby communities and counties.
Safety/health – Block RICL questions the safety and health hazard of the high-voltage lines. Dolder said one of his neighbors is in the proposed corridor and because the neighbor has a pacemaker, he will not be able to farm near the lines. “They don’t know all the risks involved,” Dolder noted. “I don’t believe it for a minute that they do.”
Henry Babson of Morris, also a member of Block RICL, pointed out that he is not against alternative energy sources but has a problem with RICL on several levels. “They are private speculators . . . It worries me that eminent domain can be awarded to private speculators,” he said. “Illinois will get virtually nothing. Morris would get a little tax revenue but they mainly want people to build turbines in west Iowa. It’s not entirely truthful the way it’s been pitched. I don’t have a problem with something in my back yard if I know what it is, but I don’t think we’ve been told exactly what this is.”
Babson also questioned what would happen if RICL goes bankrupt. “The line will be worthless. It would have to be dismantled,” he said. “RICL is not a public utility. It’s scary to think they can take land from people. If eminent domain is awarded, they can come in – by law – wherever they decide and the landowner can’t say no. Yes, the landowner is given compensation but they can’t say no.”
Doughty agreed. “They can just come plowing wherever they want,” he emphasized. “We have about 100 landowners in our local group who are committed to not letting them come through our land. We’re going to do whatever it takes. We’re not going to let this happen.”
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