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Topeka man protests transmission lines near Nemaha County property  

Credit:  By Megan Hart | The Topeka Capital-Journal | September 14, 2013 | cjonline.com ~~

Matthew Stallbaumer said the 222 acres his family owns in Nemaha County are the possession he most wanted to preserve for future generations.

A high-voltage transmission line proposed to run near the property could make it worthless, he said.

“Right now it’s priceless to us,” he said.

The 600-kilovolt Grain Belt Express transmission line would run through northeast Kansas as part of a plan to export wind energy generated in western Kansas to Indiana and possibly markets farther east under a siting plan before the Kansas Corporation Commission, which regulates electrical utilities, along with other industries.

If the plan is approved, the 600-kilovolt transmission line would run through Ford, Hodgeman, Edwards, Pawnee, Barton, Russell, Osborne, Mitchell, Cloud, Washington, Marshall, Nemaha, Brown and Doniphan counties, then continue through Missouri and Illinois into Indiana. About 370 of the 750 miles of transmission line would be in Kansas, according to documents filed with the KCC. Developer Clean Line Energy estimated it would spend more than $900 million on the Kansas portion of the project, which would be recovered from the end users in Indiana and possibly farther east.

Stallbaumer, who lives in Topeka, said in his petition that the line would be within 1,000 feet of his family’s property, where they one day hoped to build a house, and would diminish its value. The piece of land, near Seneca, has been in his family since 1854, he said.

“By imposing the power of eminent domain so people in Indiana can have electricity – this does not show that the state of Kansas is protecting or considering its own people,” he said in his petition.

Long process behind route

Mark Lawlor, director of development for the Grain Belt Express project, said the siting process took two years, and Clean Line attempted to find the route with the least impact on landowners and the environment. They tried to stay within the right-of-way of existing electrical lines or gas pipelines, he said, and when that wasn’t possible they tried to run the line along the border between properties instead of through the property.

“It allows you to just have an incremental impact versus a brand new one,” he said.

Lawlor said the transmission line will encourage development of wind farms to take advantage of Kansas’ geographic and meteorological position. Clean Line officials estimated in their testimony to the KCC that wind farms providing energy through the lines would generate more than 500 permanent jobs, and the three years of construction on the lines would require more than 2,300 jobs each year.

“It’s the difference between hitting the boundary of our wind energy potential or becoming a leader in the country,” he said.

According to a schedule posted on the KCC’s website, a hearing to weigh testimony from interested parties will be held from Oct. 8 to 10, with the possibility of a follow-up public hearing Oct. 16. The KCC must issue an order by Nov. 12 because of a 120-day limit for approving siting applications. The KCC then could approve the proposal as is, approve it with modifications or reject it, Lawlor said.

If it is approved, construction could begin in 2016, according to documents filed with the KCC.

The KCC previously determined the project itself is necessary because “the export of Kansas’ abundant wind energy resources is in the public’s interest,” meaning that where to run the line is the issue in dispute at this point. The question is whether the proposed route is “reasonable,” and the company building the line, landowners whose property lies in the proposed path and other people who the KCC believes have a substantial interest in the issue can submit testimony to be used in its decision.

Affected groups ask to testify

Westar Energy was one of the groups that asked to intervene in the case. Paul Wallen, executive director of transmission and substation construction for Westar, said they aren’t opposed to a new transmission line in general, but they want it to be constructed in a way that minimizes the potential for outages affecting Westar customers. The KCC ruled Westar could intervene, but only on issues related directly to its lines.

The proposed route crosses Westar lines in six places, Wallen said, and if rough weather knocked down the Grain Belt line, it could take the Westar lines with it. The easiest way to reduce that risk and to make power restoration easier is to build towers within a few hundred feet of the crossing point, he said, instead of possibly having a long section of wire on the ground when towers are miles apart.

“Reliabilty is the key concern for our customers,” he said.

KCC staff recommended Stallbaumer not be allowed to intervene in the case, because the land in question is owned by his parents, Thomas and Deborah Stallbaumer, who filed their own petition to intervene Aug. 27.

Stallbaumer said in his petition that he doesn’t believe the line is necessary, but if the KCC chooses to let it go forward it should require Clean Line to bury the line, to stay within existing easements or to go through more sparsely populated areas.

Anthony Galli, executive vice president of transmission and technical services for Clean Line, said in his testimony to the KCC that no one has laid a cable carrying that load of electricity over such a long distance, and the risk involved with being the first to try it would make the project unworkable. He also pointed to longer repair times than on above-ground cables and the problem of heat building up around the cable underground.

Stallbaumer said he is concerned about possible human and animal health effects from the line, which he said would make the property unusable for building a residence. A 2010 review of 14 previous studies published in the British Journal of Cancer found a higher risk of leukemia in children who lived near high-voltage lines or who had higher levels of magnetic field exposure than the average child, but couldn’t rule out that other factors might have led to the elevated cancer rate.

Four routes through east

Clean Line’s application identified eight possible routes for the western segment of the line, three for the middle section and four for the eastern segment. The eastern segment runs south of Maryville and Seneca, near Stallbaumer’s family’s land.

The siting study filed with the KCC identified the chosen route near Marysville and Seneca as the best of the four eastern options because it was the shortest, was parallel to an existing right of way 50 percent of the way and crossed the least amount of pasture land that isn’t already parallel to an existing line – 7.4 miles. Disadvantages included a number of historical sites with one-half mile and one mile of the line.

The tendency to run new lines parallel to existing ones concerns him, Stallbaumer said, because adding more lines “has the potential to take away every bit of our heritage.”

“The human element to this is being ignored,” he said. “The pockets of private investors in Houston and New York are being filled at our expense.”

Lawlor said Clean Line is still in negotiations with landowners over easements. The company is offering 100 percent of the market value of the easement area, he said, with additional payments for each pole placed on the owner’s property. For one type of pole, the offer is $18,000 per pole up-front, or a yearly payment of $1,500, he said.

Clean Line does have the authority to use eminent domain, Lawlor said, but hasn’t had to do so thus far.

“It is our goal to never have to resort to using our siting authority,” he said. “We’ve had really good success so far.”

Source:  By Megan Hart | The Topeka Capital-Journal | September 14, 2013 | cjonline.com

This article is the work of the source indicated. Any opinions expressed in it are not necessarily those of National Wind Watch.

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