Yet another MidAmerican Energy Company (MEC) 345,000 volt (kV) substation doubled the focus of the O’Brien County Supervisors at their April 29, 2014 meeting. If one 345 kV substation wasn’t enough, now there are two in the mix.
Present at this meeting again were Kevin Mars and Tracey Wittrock, adjacent landowners to the proposed wind farm substation site. However, the new participant joining in was Kelly Ney who owns land in Highland, Summit and Lincoln Townships. MEC’s 51-year old power line has crossed Ney property in Section 34, Summit Township since the line was built.
Compounding everything, however, is Ney owns property in Section 20, Lincoln Township west of Starling Avenue and to the south of the 2nd proposed 345 kV substation planned for Section 21, Lincoln Township. Ney is a loud and vocal opponent of both new power line construction and wind energy.
The Iowa Utilities Board (IUB) and MEC hosted a landowner’s informational meeting in the Hartley Community Center at Hartley, Iowa on Dec. 6, 2012. The IUB requires utility companies to notify landowners along a proposed power line route in writing and invite affected landowners to these meetings in every county along the route.
MEC also invited the O’Brien County Board of Supervisors to Hartley to listen to MEC reveal where the route will lay and the purpose for the proposed new line. About 100 O’Brien and western Clay County landowners attended that Hartley meeting. The owner of land where a new 345 kV substation is to be built was also present.
Then late last year, MEC awarded contracts to build the substations and the transmission line. EC Source, a large utility construction contractor, was awarded the contract. Two of EC’s subsidiaries are T & D Power and Environmental Energy Group. T & D Power had two people in Primghar last fall visiting with the county engineer and economic development director. The project has since slipped from everyone’s memory.
County auditor Barb Rohwer introduced this 2nd substation issue when she explained, “I got a phone call late yesterday afternoon from a gal that works for Environmental Energy Group. They are getting ready to build a substation that they’re working on up in Lincoln Township.
She says, ‘I need permission and a permit for this project.’ Well, I can’t give you a permit yet because there’s nothing that’s been discussed. There’s nothing yet to do that. So, she wanted something.”
Because there weren’t maps in front of them at this April 29th meeting showing the route and the substation location, the supervisors were uncertain exactly where a new substation was going in. For several minutes, they speculated about the exact location of the new substation.
“Do you know where it’s going to be for sure?” supervisor Tom Farnsworth asked.
Supervisor Dan Friedrichsen finally asked Mars, Wittrock and Ney, “I don’t know. Might I ask the public? Do you know exactly in that section where the substation will be?”
“It’s directly east of Keith Groendyke. And the concern will be that once they get the substation built under the pretense that it’s not a wind mill. MidAmerican will then want to go east with their power line, then go west and get wind mill power to it,” Ney said.
“These people never tell, if MidAmerican is telling the truth, they never tell the whole truth. And you guys have got to come to that conclusion,” Ney claimed.
“What do they own?” Friedrichsen asked. “Do they own that 80 acres?”
“I don’t know how many acres of it. It’s on an 80, but I don’t think they bought the whole 80 acres,” Ney said.
“What I agree with you is I’d like to see a map that shows what it is. I’d like to see more of what it is that they are talking about,” said Farnsworth
Ney said, “I just wanted to say, shouldn’t the red flags be flashing for you people? We want to get ahead of this ordinance. We don’t want to be tied down. I mean, shouldn’t bells and whistles go off under this ordinance?”
“But my point is, what you have right now and what you are working on does nothing for this 2nd substation situation,” Rohwer countered.
“At this moment, it does nothing to it. Or even under the amendment that we have it does nothing for it. Because it’s not associated with wind,” insisted Farnsworth. “But, I’d still like to see a map of where and what they are talking about up there. And she should be able to furnish that. She knows exactly where it’s going.”
Rohwer said, “Once again, this isn’t MidAmerican that’s asking.”
What’s that entity?” Friedrichsen asked.
“Environmental Energy Group,” replied the auditor.
Farnsworth asked, “Has Micah (county attorney Micah Schreurs) sent back anything on this?”
“I’ve never heard a word,” said Rohwer. “He passed me in the hall on the way out one night.”
“He hasn’t replied at all about the amendment?” Farnsworth questioned. “Well, we’re going to be running out of time here. I think whoever this Environmental Energy Group is; it isn’t okay to send them a letter, without knowing exactly where this is at and asking what their intentions are.”
“Yeah. I want absolute distinction of what they want,” said Friedrichsen.
“I don’t want to bother you,” Ney interrupted again, “but in the case of this function, the question needs to be is this a wind structure? Is this for wind mills? They can not use eminent domain. I already know they want to cross my land with overhead power lines. If I know that, you guys should surely know that. But MidAmerican sure doesn’t want to share that information.”
“Is it a wind structure is an important question. “They need to say, ‘Yes’ right away to that. If that’s what it is for,” Ney cautioned. “They’re going to tell you, ‘No’ is what I think they are going to tell you. I’ll let you go back to your meeting.”
“That amendment, we need to get that done,” said Farnsworth. “The sooner we get that done and then find out what they are going to do.” said Farnsworth. “I don’t want them running an end around on us. You know what I’m thinking. They’d do that.”
“I’ll just add to that, if money is such an object to them, common sense would rule that you don’t pour concrete when it’s zero degrees and stuff like that,” said Ney. Ney was referring to late last fall and into Christmas when construction workers hastened to get 20 wind turbine foundations poured in the Highland Wind Farm Project.
“For MEC, money should be no object to straighten out their messes. They do not…Please do not-and I’m going to get out of here before I-But do not let them step on O’Brien County’s residents one at a time,” said Ney, clearly angry now. “They are not going to step on a group of you. They are going to step on you one at a time.
“Up in Lincoln Township they’re going to go across me. I already know what their future plans are. And if they don’t tell you that that substation up there is for wind, well they are not telling you the truth. And that’s sad that a company of that size can come into this county and do what they are doing to us,” Ney continued.
“It’s set me off. You guys represent the residents of O’Brien County, not Warren Buffet, Berkshire Hathaway, and MidAmerican Energy. You do not represent them at all. You are here to protect us!” Ney asserted.
Ney apparently wasn’t cognizant of the oft stated purpose for many new transmission line and upgrade projects across the 12 upper Midwest states in the Mid-Continent Independent System Operator (MISO) regional transmission organization. As the regional grid operator, MISO approved these projects at their Dec. 2011 Annual Board of Directors meeting.
These projects are intended to ship large amounts of future renewable energy generation, relieve constraints on the high voltage grid, and to increase system reliability.
(In Part III, O’Brien County landowners pack Board room to hear from substation project contractors.)
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