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Regulator hears opposition to wind power project

Northeast Kansas residents sounded off Monday night against a proposal to build a regional wind energy network through their property.

The Kansas Corporation Commission, the state’s utility regulator, held a public hearing on a project by Clean Line Energy Partners to build a $2 billion transmission line known as the Grain Belt Express. The session, held at the Nemaha County Community Building in Seneca, Kan., drew a large overflow crowd that impressed the utility board’s leaders.

“This is an incredible turnout,” said Judy Jenkins, the KCC’s litigation counsel who explained the approval process needed for Clean Line’s plan.

But setting an attendance record for the center wasn’t the purpose for the audience members, many of whom raised hands to express their opposition to Clean Line’s efforts. The utility seeks to construct a 700-mile overhead, high-voltage direct current transmission line to send 3,500 megawatts of wind power from western Kansas to eastern states, where demand is growing.

Despite a detailed presentation, company officials were forced to play defense against informal but heavy criticism of their endeavor.

“How many Clean Line employees have a law degree, and do you have experience with Enron?” one woman asked. She referred to the collapse of the Houston company that featured more than $2 billion in lost employee pensions, joblessness for more than 5,000 people, and $60 billion of stock rendered worthless.

“I think we have two employees who have previous experience with Enron,” said Jimmy Glotfelty, Grain Belt’s executive vice president of external affairs. Like Enron, the 4-year-old Clean Line also is based in Houston.

One woman asked if the utility could give a guarantee that the transmission lines would not cause any health problems.

“You’re telling me these aren’t going to cause any cancer?” she queried. “How would you like these to cross your yard?”

Clean Line officials countered by stating that no scientific research has proven that overhead electric lines are detrimental to human and animal health.

“My land’s not for sale,” one man indignantly told the utility.

But Clean Line representatives maintained that property owners will receive fair compensation for allowing the network to traverse their land, adding the project will bring jobs to the area.

“We’ll continue to grow that through the lean economy,” said Director of Development Mark Lawlor.

More formal testimony was transcribed by the commission later in the evening. The KCC will continue to accept written testimony through Aug. 28 and render a decision by Nov. 12.

The transmission line is proposed to run south of St. Joseph.