Conflicts that arose between Rock Island Clean Line’s high voltage direct current (HVDC) wind energy transmission route through Center and Highland Townships and numerous MidAmerican Energy wind turbine sites in O’Brien County caused Rock Island to change the route and host another landowner meeting at the Hartley Community Center.
The purpose of the Friday, Dec. 13th joint meeting with the Iowa Utilities Board (IUB) and Rock Island was to show newly-affected landowners in eastern Center and Omega Townships the recent changes.
The approximately $2 billion, 600,000 volt DC power line is proposed to go to Grundy County, Illinois. Rock Island filed their preferred route with the IUB for the HVDC power line on July 3, 2013.
Both the Rock Island/IUB landowner informational meeting and the public hearing to approve Invenergy’s construction permit were subsequently held on the same day, August 20th. That’s when it became apparent to most everyone that a problem now existed in that 10 miles of the 3,500 MW power line would traverse much of the 218-turbine MidAmerican wind farm now under construction in O’Brien County.
Project Manager Beth Conley explained the debacle during her formal remarks to introduce the new route. Conley said, “We’re here in O’Brien County for the second time. We had a meeting in August where we had a different proposed route.
On that same day, Invenergy was having a public hearing about their proposed wind farm, which they were developing in conjunction with MidAmerican Energy. “When we were developing our route, we were working with the best turbine locations that we had at the time. Over the past few months in our conversations with Invenergy, as their project moved forward, we’ve learned a little bit more about those proposed and final turbine locations.
“We really want their project to be successful here. We decided to propose a new route through O’Brien County.”
*Rock Island’s Revised Route Description
From the converter station near Sanborn, the line is now shown going due east along the half-section lines to Section 6, Omega Township where it turns south to Section 31, Omega, for a distance of six miles. From there, the new alignment is shown going due east to Section 36 of Omega where it turns south into Section 12, Grant Township for a distance of two miles. In Section 12, the line intersects the original route into Clay County. Approximately 19 miles of new power line is now shown in O’Brien County.
As with the earlier meeting, IUB regulation engineer Jim Sundermeyer presided. Sundermeyer read from Iowa Code Chapter 478 that explains when utilities need to apply for a franchise to construct, operate and maintain new transmission infrastructure.
Sundermeyer again reviewed the rules that explain how utility companies can acquire the necessary right-of-way for new transmission infrastructure. Rock Island can seek voluntary easements from the landowner that allows it the privilege to enter the 145 to 200 foot wide easement area for work activity now and in the future.
Rock Island isn’t seeking to own any land. If the landowner doesn’t sign the voluntary easement agreement, then a utility company can obtain the use of the right-of- way through its right of eminent domain. Again, property doesn’t change ownership.
*Q & A Session Becomes Contentious
Sundermeyer then opened up the meeting for landowner questions. The people behind the leading opposition group to Rock Island’s HVDC power line proposal, Preservation for Rural Iowa Alliance (PRIA), were well represented. Perhaps 20 members from the opposition group were in attendance.
One irate PRIA member insisted that Rock Island was putting out misleading information when Rock Island stated that 500 permanent jobs will be created. “The line is only 500 miles long. Where are you going to put 500 people to work? Will you have one employee per mile walking along the line every day?” she demanded to know.
Conley clarified some misconceptions by stating, “The 500 permanent jobs are not just pertaining to our power line. Many are jobs that will be created to operate and maintain the wind turbines that will result from building the wind farms necessary to feed power into our line. We’ll open up the opportunity to create 500 jobs.”
Clearly unsatisfied, the angry PRIA member claimed that Rock Island was putting out false information. Even Rock Island’s first information material has a graphic showing where these permanent jobs will be realized. Rock Island has often said that perhaps 10 to 20 employees will be needed to operate their AC to DC converter stations.
The same person brought up another issue. “I also wanted to bring up the fact that you are exporting this wind energy. This power is not being used here in Iowa. On our light bill that we get we have a line that says transmission line fees which is to import the electricity that we use. The electricity that we use is from out of state. And that cost has gone up 22% in the last 18 months,” claimed the Clay County resident.
PRIA remains adamantly opposed to exporting excess wind energy from Iowa. “Why do we have to pay to import electricity, and export our own energy, when we can use it right here?” she asked.
“That’s a good question,” replied Conley. “There is an opportunity for, and the potential capacity exists for both to create that power and to use that power here in the state. But, there is also an overabundance of power that can be shipped out. I can’t speak to your local utility and where they purchase their power. There’s power that comes into the state every day and there’s power that goes out of the state every day.”
Does Rock Island expect any action from MISO on the proposed Rock Island project in the next 12 months? This was the next question.
Conley said, “We do have ongoing studies with the Mid-Continent Independent System Operator, MISO. Those studies are ongoing. I think it’s best to say we could have a decision in the next 12 months. But, it’s always a part of someone else’s timeline.”
Questions were asked about why the line needed to be re-routed and about how far away wind turbines need to be from power lines and other structures. Conley replied, “There is a required set back for wind turbines between each other and a set back from other structures both existing and new. We are not aware of any other wind farms under development along our new route that we are presenting today.”
Iowa Wind Energy Association Executive Director Harold Prior added, “The actual sitting of wind turbines are done on the individual county level. So, each county has their own requirements.”
O’Brien County resident Daryl Haack said, “I’m Daryl Haack and the president of the O’Brien County Landowner’s Association. We support the construction of the transmission lines from the wind turbines in O’Brien County. We’re fully in support of that. I’d also like to address a previous question about electricity brought in and out of the state.
“I believe that even with the transmission line costs, our electricity prices are lower than what the costs of the electricity that’s produced from these windmills will be. So, I think we’re better off from doing it that way. I think it’s to our benefit to ship out our excess electricity. We can make some money from that which comes from other parts of the country.”
The Bonneville Dam on the Columbia River in far northern Oregon generates huge amounts of electricity. A portion of that electricity is fed into an AC – to – DC ABB manufactured converter station there and then onto a HVDC power line. The 3,100 MW Pacific DC Intertie power line is then routed entirely across Oregon and into a DC to AC converter station just north of Los Angeles where it is distributed onto the AC high voltage grid in that region.
Power is routinely routed from sources of generation hundred of miles to other states. The same can be said for the transmission of refined petroleum products in that energy from fossil fuel produced in one state is shipped through pipelines to many distant states. Energy resources only gets to distant consumers because of private and public transmission infrastructure stuff.
The next questioner wanted to know when Rock Island intends to mail requests for information (RFI) to those potential wind energy developers who intend, or are interested, to ship wind energy on Rock Island’s power line.
Conley replied, “As I mentioned, we’re just finishing off the regulatory process here today. I think you can maybe anticipate that part of the process in 2014. But I wouldn’t be able to give you a firm date today.”
As was discussed at the August 20th meeting, Aberdeen, SD based Dakota Plains Energy and the Lincoln County Landowners Association are now in the early stages of developing a 1,000 MW wind farm on 75,000 acres. Lincoln County landowners plan to ship power to O’Brien County.
Now, four months later, that project is still moving forward. Rob Johnson is the Principal with Dakota Plains, the wind energy development firm working with that landowners association. The project is called Dakota Power Community Wind LLC.
Johnson says via email, “Option & Lease Agreements were mailed out to all identified landowners in September. The feedback we’ve received from enrollees states they are definitely interested in this new ongoing income stream, with no input cost to the landowner. Most said they didn’t understand why a landowner would not participate.
“Many have also expressed interest in investing into the project to “double-dip,” combining turbine royalty payments with project equity upside and keeping more money locally.”
Rock Island plans to file their franchise application with the IUB in 2014. Conley said that construction could start as early as 2015, with the line being energized in 2017.
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