As efforts for the Rock Island Clean Line begin to gain traction, Clean Line Energy Partners, the company behind the transmission system, and the Iowa Utilities Board are traveling through the state and holding public forums to offer more information and answer questions regarding potential changes in Iowa communities. They will host one in Spencer at 3 p.m. Tuesday at the Events Center.
“Rock Island is one of five projects we’re working on,” Doug Jones, project manager with Clean Line Energy Partners, said. “It’s designed to take wind energy from northwest Iowa and transport it 500 miles across Iowa into Illinois, where it will be put into the Turbine Generator Maintenance Grid, which is the transmission infrastructure that takes care of northern Illinois.”
“To break it down, the clean line would take energy from where it’s abundant to where there’s a demand,” he said.
Jones noted Clean Line Energy started working on the Rock Island project about three years ago, by thinking of where the best resources for wind energy were located.
“Northwest Iowa has some of the best wind energy in the country that’s closest to the eastern part of the country, where there’s the demand,” he said.
Included in the research were conversations with corridors across the state. Clean Line Energy also conducted open houses across Iowa, including one in Spencer.
“We had landowner meetings, where we invited folks to come in and learn about the projects,” Jones said.
After gathering the information they needed, the energy company met with supervisors, economic development representatives and other corridor representatives to define what they felt was the best route over the six counties of the state the line would pass through.
“We tried to get as much feedback as we could,” he said.
Jerry Crew, a farmer in Webb, is opposed to the project.
“Every single bit of this line is crossing private property,” he said. “None of the public access land is used.”
Crew noted that while he is not opposed to the line crossing through Iowa, or to the inclusion of alternative energy transmission, he is opposed to the reliance on private property within the current plans.
“Why don’t they try to utilize public access right-of-ways?” he said. “There’s the center median of Highway 20, for example. That way, they wouldn’t have to negotiate with landowners.”
Other concerns of Crew’s are the expense of wind energy as opposed to other forms of energy, as well as the subsidies wind energy has been receiving from the government, which may not last forever.
“Wind energy is the most expensive form of energy out there,” he said. “To me, the cheapest energy is the energy we use, and the only way wind energy is succeeding is because of government funding. But this administration will not be in power forever, and what will happen if the next administration doesn’t want to continue the funding?”
Crew noted most of his concerns lie in the unknown, due to the lack of specific details he’s received from Clean Line Energy.
Jones anticipated many questions the landowners have will be answered at Tuesday’s meeting.
“The Iowa Utility board has a presentation they will give and when they’re done, we’ll have an opportunity to present,” he said. “The board does not let us talk to the landowners about compensation, or other details, until after this meeting. After their presentation, we can let the landowners know about the compensation, structures, and other specific details.”
In order to build the transmission system, Jones noted the Iowa Utilities board needs to grant a franchise to Clean Line Energy. Tuesday’s meeting is a requirement to earn that franchise.
“The board will read the laws as they apply to landowners at this meeting,” Jones said. “It’s something that gives landowners information regarding what their rights are as the landowner.”
Crew and nearly 50 other landowners have created the Preservation of Rural Iowa Alliance, an organization to push against the clean line’s development in northwest Iowa.
“If they’re designated a franchise, we’ve lost the battle,” he said. “Once they’re designated a franchise, they can exercise an eminent domain which would force us to sell our land. You’d be forced to sell a 200-foot right-of-way across the center of your farm and they can do whatever they want to within that area.”
Loren Flaugh, who has worked and had an interest in energy since 1969, sees the Rock Island Clean Line as a positive opportunity for the communities involved.
“It’s all about the farmers participating in the energy markets,” Flaugh said. “Sometimes the landowners need to start thinking about wind energy as a crop.”
Flaugh noted the ethanol plant in Hartley as “an opportunity that gave farmers an opportunity to participate in the energy markets.”
“There’s no reason why wind energy shouldn’t have the same potential,” he said.
Crew anticipates the transmission towers as an eyesore, and estimates his property values will decrease as a result.
“My property values will definitely decrease with this thing going through the center of my farm,” he said. “And just as a double-way highway in the middle of the farmland is an eyesore, this will be an eyesore. If they were to put the transmission towers through the median of the interstate highway, you kill two birds with one stone. Two eyesores, but in one location.”
“If the transmission towers follow along property division lines and if they follow half-section lines, you hardly even notice them,” Flaugh said. “Of course they’re an obstruction when they’re out in the middle of the field, but the Iowa Utilities board almost never allows new transmission infrastructure to go diagonally through someone’s field. They always recommend transmission lines follow along the property edge.”
Jones noted the project would bring about $7 billion in wind farm production development to northwwest Iowa and its surrounding area. In addition, the project would bring “lots of jobs” to the region.
“Whenever you talk about an infrastructure project of this scale, there will be people who are opposed,” he said. “I’m from Spencer. I taught school in Spencer for 20 years and in Royal for the 10 years before that. I’m sensitive to landowners – I know how hard they’ve worked for their land.”
After the Iowa Utilities board and Clean Line Energy have made their presentations Tuesday afternoon, Jones said they’ll likely sit down with landowners and talk about specifics and how individual properties would be affected by the transmission lines.
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