MENDOTA, Ill. – The crowd of more than 500 people in the auditorium of Mendota High School to give testimony for and against the Rock Island Clean Line project was standing room only – at least for a few minutes.
The group of people gathered for a public hearing on the proposed Rock Island Clean Line merchant transmission line project numbered well above 500. It included local residents and farmers and landowners, as well as those who stand to benefit from the project and employees of Clean Line Energy.
The Illinois Commerce Commission, in response to demands from opponents of the proposed 500-mile-long Rock Island Clean Line project, conducted a public hearing to gather testimony and statements on the project.
The 3,500-megawatt line is proposed to go from wind farms in western Iowa to a substation in Grundy County in Illinois, where power will then be converted to alternating current and sold to East Coast markets. Six Illinois counties will be impacted by the line’s route.
The hearing started off with an explanation of the case and the hearing itself, along with a stern warning from the ICC moderator.
“We have a few police officers here to make sure everybody respects everybody else. Each of us has had jobs over the years and you’ve had to do something that you might not have wanted to do, but you were representing your company. The people that are fighting this need their respect, too. If somebody comes up here to testify and you don’t agree with what they’re testifying for, that’s your prerogative, but keep it to yourself. We don’t have time to mess around with that tonight,” the moderator said.
His statement was reinforced with the presence of a number of Mendota police officers in uniform both in the auditorium and outside in the entryway leading to the auditorium, as well as outside the entrance to the high school.
The first person to speak was Jimmy Glotfelty, executive vice president of Clean Line Energy Partners. Glotfelty acknowledged that the project has met with strong opposition.
“We recognize that there is tension between the benefits we expect and the impacts of this transmission route. We have worked very hard to develop the least impactful route, but unfortunately there’s no such thing as a transmission line with no impacts at all,” he said.
Glotfelty also outlined the offer that was made to the six counties through which the line will pass.
“We want to be a good neighbor. We want to show you how we’re going to be a good neighbor. We are a burden to counties at times and what we have done – we have offered payments to Illinois counties that host the Rock Island Clean Line. Rock Island Clean Line has offered to pay $7,000 per mile for each year for the next 20 years. Should all six counties in Illinois that the Rock Island Clean Line go through accept this offer, we would be paying $840,000 a year for the next 20 years to each of those six counties,” he said.
Glotfelty began his remarks by stating that Clean Line Energy Partners, an investment corporation based in Houston, Texas, believes that the line will provide benefits.
“Clean Line strongly believes that this project will bring benefits to Illinois and to our nation. These benefits are in terms of low-cost energy that Illinois and the nation will acquire, as well as benefits in terms of new jobs and other economic benefits to our state and our nation,” he said.
Philip Nelson, president of Illinois Farm Bureau, drew a loud round of applause, and the first applause of the evening, when he walked to the microphone following Glotfelty, who was the only speaker to speak at a podium on the stage.
The Illinois Farm Bureau has officially opposed the project and has intervened in the case at the Illinois Commerce Commission.
“The cart is before the horse,” said Nelson, noting that the company owns no wind farms and, so far, no purchasers of the electricity they plan to move.
“What the ICC has before it is a merchant line with no wind farms to generate electricity in Iowa, no subscribers to purchase the hypothetical electricity to be generated. No one between western Iowa and the end of the line would have access to the power or would be able to connect to Clean Line’s proposed line,” he said.
Nelson also raised concerns that the deal has not been subject to a review process that cost-allocation projects, which the RICL project is, so far, not considered to be, have to go through.
“Because this project has been proposed as a merchant line, we understand it doesn’t have to go through a study like most project, which seek cost allocation,” he said.
Nelson also voiced concerns that the proposed route, which takes the line through farmland, would hinder farmers’ ability to go about their business.
“It is sited to go the shortest distance between two points, and in many cases the route crosses farmland on a diagonal and doesn’t follow section lines, which makes it even more difficult to farm,” he said.
“Prime farmland should not be split by transmission lines. Transmission lines impact our ability to apply pesticides, use irrigation and cause compaction and damage to our drainage tiles,” he added.
Illinois Farm Bureau also objects to the ICC granting public utility status since that means the company could exercise eminent domain in situations where landowners refuse to grant easements.
Some of the loudest applause in the room went to one of the youngest speakers. Alyssa Dolder, wearing her Serena FFA jacket, commented on effects that could come from the proposed line. She noted that she and her sister are the fifth generation on their family’s farm near Serena.
“Our family is convinced that this is an unnecessary and extremely harmful project. Our home and farm, as well as all the others along the route, will be damaged,” said Dolder, who was greeted with loud, sustained applause from the audience after her testimony.
Dwayne Anderson, a Henry County farmer and Illinois Farm Bureau district director, voiced concerns about the possibility of eminent domain proceedings.
“If farmers do not agree to enter into easements for this project, RICL may be able to use the power of eminent domain to take private land for private gain if the ICC grants RICL public utility status. Unfortunately, when dealing with transmission lines, we as farmers know that the companies pay less than the market value and they balk at any compensation for farmers for the devaluation of the land, permanent loss of productivity, additional production costs and loss of future development,” he said
Those who were standing along the wall of the auditorium weren’t able to hear the testimony for long. Shortly after Nelson finished, a Mendota Police Department officer appeared at the stage and conversed with the moderator for several minutes.
“The fire marshal says we have exceeded the number of people in this room. All the people who are standing up against the wall, you are either going to have to leave the room or look for a seat. If you’re not in a seat, you have to be out of this room,” said the moderator, who then proceeded to call out the locations of empty chairs in the auditorium.
When those chairs were filled, a large number of Mendota police officers cleared those who still were standing out into the entryway of the high school. However, a few minutes later, some half a dozen people wearing Clean Line Energy shirts were standing back in one of the doorways, and police did not move to order them away.
Most of those who had been standing in the auditorium and who could not find a seat left the hearing as there was no provision for audio or video feed of the remarks outside the auditorium.
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