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Lawmakers offer new rules on consideration of controversial wind energy power lines

A panel of Iowa lawmakers advanced legislation on Tuesday rewriting the approval process for construction of certain new power lines in the state.

The measure is a direct response to vocal opposition to the proposed Rock Island Clean Line from landowners across northern Iowa.

The proposed 500-mile transmission line will deliver wind energy from northwest Iowa to markets in Illinois and points eastward, but may have to take land by eminent domain to secure the long, narrow strip on which the power lines and poles will run through 16 Iowa counties.

Dozens of opponents – many wearing bright yellow “Stop RICL” t-shirts – crowded into a House subcommittee hearing on Tuesday to assert their property rights and oppose the potential use of eminent domain. Hundreds more have submitted objections to the Iowa Utilities Board over the proposed line.

For Grundy County farmer Eric Andersen, the loss of farmland to eminent domain was a bad deal at any price.

“Your compensations are significant and some people think that’s a lot of money, but if you divide that number by forever and it’s not very much,” Andersen said. “It pales in comparison to the loss in production for the most productive farmland in the world.”

Diverse and powerful interested are lined up behind the transmission line, however, including environmental groups, labor unions and the wind-energy industry.

The bill under consideration would create an alternate process for approving new transmission lines that deliver direct current power and exceed 200 miles. Under the bill, if 5 percent of landowners in the line’s path were subject to eminent domain, the project developer would be required to draw two alternative routes.

If those routes also drew objections, the Iowa Utilities Board would determine if the transmission line’s public value outweighed the private property concerns and potentially pick which of the three route options would be developed.

Supporters of the project oppose the legislation, and compare the development of transmission lines to the construction of farm-to-market roads that allow farmers to transport crops and livestock to customers out of state.

The bill must win committee approval by Friday to remain viable for passage. House Judiciary Chairman Chip Baltimore said he would bring the bill before his committee on Wednesday or Thursday, but acknowledged much discussion remains before the bill is ready for passage.