Rock Island Clean Line is a proposed 3,500-megawatt direct current transmission line that would carry wind energy from yet-to-be-built wind turbines in northwest Iowa to near Chicago to provide electricity to yet-to-be-determined customers.
The output from the turbines would be changed to direct current (DC) at a converter station (yet to be built) in O’Brien County for transport to a converter station (yet to be built) on the other end to reverse the process. Electricity can only be used in alternating current form, which means the electricity cannot be accessed by anyone until converted.
The proposed route through Iowa and Illinois is located entirely on private land, decimating some of the best farm land in the world.
I won’t dwell on the destruction to my farm and my farming operation if Rock Island Clean Line is constructed on the proposed route, which cuts my quarter section directly in half. We know the difficulty farming around the poles, the possible elimination of aerial spraying, which is becoming an integral part of pest management, the destruction of soil structure by heavy machinery in all kinds of conditions and the subsequent loss of land value.
I want to alert Iowa consumers to what happens if Rock Island Clean Line is built and the wind stops and the realization that Rock Island Clean Line is more complicated and has much deeper implications than I or anyone else could imagine.
Because there is much misinformation about the reliability and capacity of wind energy, the question “What happens when the wind stops?” must be answered. I know that power from wind energy has to be replaced, but does it happen before it goes into the DC conversion process? Or does it happen at the other end from a different grid?
Proponents of wind energy always remind us Iowa is at the forefront of wind energy because 25 percent of Iowa’s electricity is generated from wind turbines, which is true only when the wind blows. Since wind is an unreliable source of energy, utilities have to back up the system with reliable, non-renewable energy when the wind stops. That backup has always been and will continue to be fossil fuels – gas, oil, coal or nuclear.
I don’t know what will happen to the price of electricity if Rock Island Clean Line is built. The project will need a huge number of new wind turbines. More infrastructure means more cost. Will that cost be passed on to the customers at the other end of Rock Island Clean Line (think of it as a giant extension cord carrying power to Chicago) or to we consumers on this end in Iowa?
[Editor’s note: Beth Conley, the Iowa manager of Rock Island Clean Line, said none of the power would be sold in Iowa. Thus, Iowa utility customers would not bear any of the costs of building or operating the turbines and Rock Island Clean Line transmission lines.]
If Rock Island Clean Line gets approval for the project from the Iowa Utilities Board, this private company from Texas would be allowed to exercise eminent domain and force me to sell them a perpetual easement across my farm.
In January, we worked with several Iowa legislators (Pat Grassley, Bobby Kaufman, Ralph Watts and others) who were willing to introduce legislation to correct this. Unfortunately, partisan politics raised its ugly head and the bills were unsuccessful.
If Rock Island Clean Line obtains a huge majority of voluntary easements from landowners, the Iowa Utilities Board will be more inclined to grant the company the “franchise” designation that would give it the right of eminent domain. But if most refuse to sign (and the alliance strongly recommends that they not sign), the job of the utilities board becomes more difficult.
JERRY CREW, a farmer from Webb, is a member of Preservation of Rural Iowa Alliance, which opposes the Rock Island Clean Line power transmission project.
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