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County board to review high-voltage powerline

An above-ground power line carrying high-voltage electricity proposed for erection across Northern La Salle County will be a topic at Monday’s La Salle County Board meeting.

The county board will vote whether to urge the Illinois Commerce Commission to provide an impartial study of the proposed Rock Island Clean Line project before granting the project public utility status.

The Illinois Valley Contractors Association supports the project.

“It brings much-needed jobs in the construction industry and delivers electricity generated by wind power to people of Illinois,” said Dan Aussem, the IVCA executive director, in a Times letter to the editor last month.

But Thursday, the county board’s development committee questioned the project’s overall impact – including its ability to create jobs.

“It’s not clear whether any local jobs will be created or whether any long-term jobs will be created,” said Steve Abel, D-Mendota, the development committee chairman. “I can’t figure out the long-term job benefits of this project once those lines go up.”

The $1.7 billion Clean Line project proposes to send 3,500 megawatts in electricity generated, in part by wind turbines in the Dakotas, Nebraska and western Iowa, along 500 miles of tower transmission lines to Grundy County. There, at a $250 million electrical converter station to be built in Channahon, the power would be sent to Eastern states.

Critics of the project have questioned whether there will be any energy benefit for Illinois residents.

In his letter, Aussem applauded “the developer’s continuous work of reaching out to interested parties and collecting feedback to develop a suitable route for the Rock Island Clean Line.”

But Abel said many rural residents fear Clean Line may be granted public utility status and with it the right to forcibly take the land it wants from private residents through eminent domain.

The eminent domain power is a key factor.

“I don’t believe for a minute that unless they get the right of eminent domain that this line will go through – at least up where I live, it’s not going to go,” he said. “I don’t think they’re going to get the property owners to agree to anything without either the threat of eminent domain or the actual implementation of eminent domain.”

Rural Earlville resident Mary Mauch said there is a shortage of impartial information about the Rock Island Clean Line project.

“Right now all we have is Rock Island’s privately commissioned study,” she said.

That needs to be weighed as part of the development plans of other utility companies, she said.

Mauch displayed a map showing other planned energy transmission lines, some of which cross Illinois land.

“We’re asking the ICC to take a look at all the other options – our own renewable energy and our own interstate development – and not necessarily taking what the privately commissioned study has said,” she said.

The committee also tabled a proposed agreement between the county and Rock Island Clean Line.

“This agreement was written by their Chicago lawyer, so I think it is somewhat one-sided,” said Abel.

Rick Scott, D-Ottawa, said the three-page agreement gives Clean Line only a single responsibility, and that is to provide an annual written project status report.

The agreement specifies the county would be paid $7,000 per mile of transmission line for 20 years. It would be the county’s job to divide that sum among the affected townships, road districts and other local governments.

Abel said depending on the transmission line route the annual amount could range from $175,000 to $300,000 annually.

“But when you end up dividing the $175,000 there might not be a lot left per taxing body.”

The agreement also provides that the land used for the transmission towers would not be taxed, and that any effort to tax the property would terminate the agreement.

“We haven’t had all of our questions answered from Clean Line,” said Abel. “We really don’t know the impact that this transmission line is going to have crossing through prime farmland in La Salle County.”

For more information visit rockislandcleanline.com.

Clean Line differs from wind farms

There is a tendency to compare the construction of the proposed Rock Island Clean Line above-ground power line with the wind farms of recent years.
But there are some significant differences, said La Salle County Board Member Steve Abel, D-Mendota, chairman of the county board’s development committee.

First, the property owner could chose whether to have a tower on their property. That may not be the case if Clean Line gets public utility status from the state.
Second, the wind turbine locations generate additional property taxes, while Clean Line would reduce the amount of taxable land.
Third, the wind farms have created some permanent local jobs, while it is not clear whether Clean Line would create any permanent local jobs.