A group of Northeast Kansas residents is voicing concerns on a regional wind energy proposal billed as delivering significant economic impacts to the area.
Clean Line Energy Partners seeks to build a $2 billion wind energy project dubbed the Grain Belt Express. The endeavor is a 700-mile overhead, high-voltage direct current transmission line sending 3,500 megawatts of wind energy from Kansas to eastern states, where demand for electricity is growing. More than 5,000 temporary construction jobs and unknown amounts of property tax revenues should accompany the project, supporters said. A Clean Line official spoke Monday afternoon to the News-Press about the project.
Yet residents in Marshall and Nemaha counties in Kansas are not convinced that the wind power transmission line is worthy and have banded together to oppose the project. One of the residents, Richard Strathman, said local farmers have only known about the plans since February.
“We haven’t had much time” to study the proposal, he told the News-Press on Monday. “It’s coming through my livestock operation. It’s going to be devastating to it.”
Mr. Strathman said he and other farmers worry that static electricity from the line has the potential to shock and adversely affect the health of their animals, leading to reduced milk production and reproductive problems. Residents of Marshall County organized online and hard-copy petitions as a means of building upon their opposition in Nemaha, Atchison, Brown and other Northeast Kansas counties. Several hundred signatures already have been gathered, Mr. Strathman said.
Clean Line is preparing to submit a line route to the Kansas Corporation Commission by early July. The commission already has granted public utility status for the project.
Opponents plan to present the petitions to Kansas government leaders after the route is submitted to the commission and a new round of public meetings is held, Mr. Strathman said. They also will continue to seek a meeting with the commission, although meetings with Clean Line have come to no avail.
“So far, the KCC has ignored our comments,” he said. “People need to stand up. There’s a lot of health hazards.”
Mark Lawlor, director of development for Clean Line, defended the project and said he believed farmers will take a pragmatic stance in evaluating its potential. He maintained that Clean Line has been open and transparent about its plans, including a series of open houses in both Kansas and Missouri and plans for additional sessions with the public.
“People don’t like change,” he said. “The counties themselves will benefit quite a bit. I do know the property tax will be substantial.”
Benefits also could accrue from the recently approved Buchanan County use tax through materials that will need to be purchased to complete the line, Mr. Lawlor said.
He countered that Clean Line has not come across any scientific research that proves overhead electric lines are detrimental to animal health.
“There’s no study that it will create a negative impact,” he said. “It’s an area that has been studied directly. The literature shows there are no health impacts.
“There are certain individuals that will have questions,” Mr. Lawlor added. “They’re looking for assurances.”
He said Clean Line officials have spoken with thousands of landowners across Kansas and most have been satisfied. Mr. Lawlor said he was aware of the petitions and said some who have signed on don’t live in the project area.
“We try to focus on everybody,” Mr. Lawlor said. “I’ve listened to them and I’ve given them consideration.”
Farmers still will own land even after easements are completed for the lines – which could encompass strips of property from 150 to 200 feet wide.
“You still have that land,” he said. “You don’t lose that.”
Prices paid for land use would represent 100 percent of fair market value, he said. Details of the compensation packages still are being finalized.
Bilateral negotiations for such projects usually have a 90 percent success rate, according to Mr. Lawlor.
“We expect to exceed that,” he said.
Claiming eminent domain would be regarded as an option in obtaining the necessary land for the route, he said.
“It’s not a final deal,” he said of the project. “We have to go to the commission. It is a process that has only just begun. … I don’t have a problem with people doing a petition.”
The partnership has received hundreds of letters of support.
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