The Block RICL Alliance, a group opposed to the Rock Island Clean Line electric transmission project, held an informational meeting in Goldfield September 19.
Clean Line Energy of Texas wants to build a high voltage DC power line across northern Iowa and into Illinois to pipe electricity from Iowa’s wind farms to a number of eastern states. To move forward with the project, the company either has to negotiate easements with property owners or gain control of their land through eminent domain.
Reasons for opposing the project vary. Farmers say the line will reduce the productivity of their land and interfere with certain agricultural practices like spraying and crop dusting. Others are concerned about how the power lines might affect the health of humans and animals.
“We don’t see that there’s been adequate research to show that a DC line is safe. I think there are unintended consequences that haven’t been researched and evaluated,” said Alliance spokesperson Caroline Sheridan. “If Rock Island Clean Line can only give us six (scholarly articles on the subject) because information is hard to find, we need more. They don’t have that information. “
The open-ended nature of the easement agreements is also a sticking point for many landowners. Several people attending the meeting expressed concern they might be signing away their mineral or water rights. Clean Line has also reserved the right to sell any easements it acquires. This, combined with the fact that Clean Line Energy is a private company, makes some landowners skeptical. As a private company, Clean Line doesn’t have to make its business model public.
“Let’s say it’s not a strong business model. Let’s say all they are doing is creating a commodity, and the commodity is the easements they have bought across Iowa. They now can sell them and do whatever they want with them,” Sheridan said. “Maybe we’ll put a pipeline or something else. They’re not interested in what’s actually going on in Iowa, they are interested in the commodity. They tell you right up front that they can sell those easements.”
Sheridan claims that states out east don’t even want wind energy from Iowa. In July of 2010, ten east coast governors signed a letter that advocated for developing their own sources of renewable energy. Rock Island believes the letter advocates for renewable energy in general. Block RICL members see the letter as a rejection of the Rock Island project.
The Block RICL Alliance stressed the importance of filing objections against Clean Line. “We think people should know how important the objection process is,” Sheridan said. “The Iowa Utilities Board will review the objections, and after all the informational meetings are done, Rock Island will file a petition for a franchise. The IUB will review that. If there are objections, there will be a public hearing in the center of the route, which they think will be in Grundy Center. That will happen sometime in the spring, but they have two years to get the franchise.
“What we’ve been hearing is that they expect to get 98 percent volunteer easements. If they get a lot of voluntary easements, there will be no need for a public hearing. So it’s up to us to get enough objections. It’s up to us to get a public hearing.”
Block RICL also advocates that people who oppose Clean Line should contact their representatives about the issue, and talk to any agricultural associations they might belong to. “If they belong to any of the associations, like Iowa Cattleman’s, they should contact them. They should contact their legislators and the governor,” Sheridan said.
According to Sheridan, people who have been filing objections have been receiving letters from Clean Line. The letters say the objectors need to notify their neighbors that they have filed an objection.
“You do not have to do any of that,” Sheridan said. “It’s intimidation. It makes you feel like you’ve done something wrong, when you haven’t.”
Sheridan said that it will be quite a while before Clean Line can gain easements through eminent domain. “There’s a long, long time before you have to sign an easement because of the rules of eminent domain. You know who determines the eminent domain price? It’s not Clean Line. It’s a local board in your county. It’s a long time before anyone’s going to take your property.”
She also feels that holding out for eminent domain will probably get landowners a higher price for their easements. Also, there’s a difference in payments that could affect your tax status. “If somebody handed you an $82,000 check, you might go into a different tax bracket and you might get taxed differently. We’re encouraging people to check with their accountant to see how it might affect them.”
The Block RICL Alliance has nearly 100 members so far. The Alliance is requesting $300 donations from tenants and landowners who want to become a member. That money is going to finance legal fees.
“People can donate less if they like,” Sheridan said. “It will take up to $200,000 to do this by the time we have figured witness and lawyer fees.”
More information on the Block RICL Alliance can be found at www.blockricl.com, by calling 815-315-8506 or through email at SaveOurFarmland@hotmail.com.