The Kansas Corporation Commission hosted a public hearing in Beloit Wednesday, Aug. 14, for the proposal by Clean Line Energy Partners to build a new direct current high-voltage transmission line near the Spearville substation in Ford County, Kansas to the Kansas/Missouri border.
The meeting opened with an information session, followed by a hearing with members of the public invited to make statements to the commissioners.
It was the public comment section of the meeting that found support for the project plus emotional comments from landowners who are not in favor of the project.
Opening the hearing, Shari Albrecht, commissioner for the KCC, stated the hearing is a very important process with the comments recorded for the commissioners to review.
The first speaker was Mitchell County Commissioner Mike Cooper. He said three years ago the commissioners caught wind of the line and they were disappointed when they discovered it could not be used to transmit locally generated power. The line will carry power directly from wind farms in southwest Kansas to the East Coast.
He said, “Clean Line has done a very good job of explaining the project. However, we have a continued commitment to the landowners and we will support our landowners and their land. I see no reason this project should not go forward.”
Local landowner David Porter said he has been excited about the project but has an issue with eminent domain.
“I am impressed with the way Clean Line has worked with us at this time.” Porter said.
A representative from a union in Topeka was present to express their support for the project. He said they have 400 workers building transmission lines.
“We are ready to help with this project,” he said. “Our linemen will stay in your hotels and make every attempt to protect the land.”
In support of the project, Margie Martin of Salina said, “Landowners will get a fair market value for the land and the counties will get tax money. We will be shipping the wind farm energy out of the state like we do wheat and livestock.”
Dorothy Barnett, Hutchinson, executive director for the Land Institute’s Climate and Energy Project, spoke in support of the project to promote renewable energy, saying it is good for the environment. Kansas has been a leader in renewable energy development, which will reduce pollution and save water, she said.
Another speaker in support of the project was Warren Brown with Hubble Power Systems, Liberty, Mo. He said Clean Line would provide $16 million to $20 million to a company working on the project which could add 60 to 65 jobs to a company the size of Hubble. “We see a lot of benefits externally and to the state of Kansas,” he said.
Speaking against the project, Richard Swenson, a landowner in Cloud County said, “As landowners we are concerned about our farm which has problems with the power line being 310 feet from our home.”
You will rip out our established shelterbelt, he said. We have three sons who want to move back and raise their families and farm. Would you want your family to live where my family home is? I would like you to reconsider the route around our home.”
A large round of applause from the audience followed his plea.
Mitchell County farmer Dennis Pahls spoke in opposition to the project, saying the transmission line will go across three parcels of land his family owns.
“In the 1960’s we lost all our land to the lake and I have spent one-half of my lifetime getting a farming operating going. We were never approached by anyone for this project,” Pahls said.
He explained the family has a high-voltage power line going through their pasture, which attracts lightning and kills livestock.
“What will happen when we take a combine out there and have the computer system knocked out?” he asked. “It will also negate the possibility of putting a center-pivot irrigation system on the land and it will lower the value of our property.”
“Everyone benefits but us,” he said. “We are the ones that will have to contend with it but no one cares. What will happen in 10, 20 or 30 years when our townships are struggling? Have we really thought this through completely?”
Local landowner Carl Jordan said they have land within one-fourth mile of the proposed line.
“I have a lot of concerns,” he said. “Will this be considered a utility corridor in the future? How will we be treated?”
Area landowner Carolyn Finney, said, “Clean Line came into this not exactly above board. Everyone affected was not notified. People who live in the country and are not landowners were not contacted about the project.”
“I am not against wind energy,” she said. “I am against the way it was presented.”
Magnetic fields and electrical fields do affect people in very small amounts adversely, she said.
“I think it needs more investigation,” Finney said. “You will not be saving us any water (which was stated earlier in the presentation). Tell us something beneficial to us. As far as the ongoing payments, I don’t think people understand how totally gone their property will be.”
There will be a lot of issues getting your land back if Clean Line fails, she said. There could be difficulties down the road.
The meeting ended with comments from Susan Inskeep who said she had not planned to speak because she was afraid of crying.
“I lived in Los Angeles for 20 years before we returned to the farm with some of the most beautiful land in the country,” she said. “I am concerned in 20 years our beautiful farm may be gone.”
Are we going to be the Saudi Arabia of Kansas? If so a lot of people will be affected, she said.
Shari Albrecht, commissioner on the Kansas Corporation Commission, opened the meeting saying that the first portion of the meeting would be an informational session, with representatives making short presentations regarding the siting application and giving members of the public an opportunity to ask questions about the project.
The KCC’s purpose is to govern utilities in the State of Kansas, she said. They have the power to approve, moderate and even reject the proposal from Clean Line.
The staff has reviewed the project and conducted a visual inspection of the placement of the line. The ultimate goal is to report the necessity of the line and make a decision within 120 days of the hearing and decide the benefit to Kansas from the project.
Albrecht said it is important for the KCC to hear comments from the landowners who would be affected by the project.
Clean Line’s plan for its Grain Belt Express Clean Line is to build a new direct current high capacity transmission line near the Spearville substation, which will be a $2.2 billion project.
Clean Line representative, Jimmy Glockfelter, opened their portion of the program saying, “It is important to hear your feelings and understand your questions. Clean Line Energy was founded to move clean energy to the east and west. Currently there is no good way to move the needed power to the east and west.
“Kansas has the second best wind resource in the United States,” he said. “However they are ranked ninth in installed wind capacity. There is plenty of room to grow this resource in Kansas. The best resource is in Ford County where the wind speeds average 23 miles per hour.”
The company plans to move wind energy to market by a 750-mile line, which will enable 4,000 megawatts of new wind development, he said. The transmission line will allow Kansas and Kansas farmers to export wind energy.
Clean Line will need 150 to 200 feet of right away for the DC line. A converter station would be in Ford County, a $250 million investment. A fee would be charged to the wind farms or the market in the east to pay for the energy transmission. Kansas would not pay for the energy, he said.
Addressing the possibility of putting the line underground, he said there are two reasons why the line cannot be put underground. Number one; is no underground voltage system has been done, and number two; it would cost 10 times as much as the above ground trans-mission line.
The economic development would include an $8 billion investment in the state, plus it would create hundreds of jobs.
Clean Line said they will work with local qualified businesses to construct and maintain the lines.
“We strive to develop our project in a transparent manner with the pubic,” he said.
The Clean Line representatives explained that the input from earlier meetings was used to develop potential routes after receiving more than 2,300 letters and comments to refine the line and arrive at a proposed route.
“We submitted this route because we think it has less impact to homes and infra-structure in place and we hope to establish and maintain a close relationship with the landowners,” the representative said.
Clean Line will pay 100 percent of fair market value for the land that has been identified for the project, plus payments on each structure on the land, offering a one-time payment or a long-term payment for the structures.
In closing the Clean Line representative said, “We want to work toward lasting relationships with the landowners involved in the project.”
The presentation was followed by questions from audience members, with a packed room of people present in the NCK Technical College meeting room.
Dave Porter asked what rights they are seeking from the landowners.
Clean Line Representative Dave Waller said the right to build and operate a trans-mission line on the property simply allows the rights to build and accessibility to the property.
When planning a line, Clean Line looks at constraints they want to avoid such as houses, federal land and physical limitations of the land.
Porter asked about taxes on the land.
Pahls said the land will still be farmed. Clean Line will pay the property taxes on the lines and poles, but the property owners will continue to pay taxes on the land.
Carolyn Finney questioned the electrical field around the lines.
A Clean Line representative said there are magnetic fields in nature, and the magnetic field is minimal.
She also asked if any of the route has been secured in Kansas.
Clean Line started securing land last week, he said.
He also said the existing lines in Western Kansas are already under contract. The new project would facilitate new wind farms to be built. Clean Line simply builds the transmission lines.
Eric from Washington County stated that the roads are township roads and asked who would take care of them.
The answer was there will be a road agreement stating that when the construction is done those roads will be in better condition than before the project started.
Ken Keil of Concordia asked about contaminating water.
Pahls said it is not uncommon to hit water. To my knowledge there has been no water contaminated.
Following a five minute break the Phase II began with additional comments from the audience that were recorded.
The public comment period will remain open through August 28. A technical hearing will be held on October 8-10 beginning at 9:30 a.m. at the Kansas Corporation Commission, 1500 SW Arrowhead Road, Topeka. An opinion will be issued on November 12, 2013.
A complete copy of the Grain Belt Express application and supporting testimony is available on the Commission’s website at: www.kcc.ks.gov, by searching Docket Filings for Docket No. 13-GBEE-803-MIS.
This article ran in last week’s Beloit newspaper, The Call.
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