A second high-voltage transmission line – this one intended for power from Kansas wind turbines – is making its way toward central Illinois.
The Grain Belt Express power line would carry electricity from wind farms in western Kansas across central Missouri and Illinois to Indiana, following the same general corridor as the Illinois Rivers power line already announced by Ameren Transmission Co. of Illinois. Illinois Rivers also would carry wind-generated power west to east.
Kansas and Indiana utility regulators have approved the $2 billion Grain Belt project, www.grainbeltexpresscleanline.com, and regulators in Missouri plan to hold public hearings this week. As with the Illinois Rivers project, the Grain Belt Express has generated controversy. Proponents argue for jobs and clean energy. Opponents fear falling land values and health hazards.
Illinois is expected to be the next regulatory stop for the 750-mile power line.
“We’re taking a state-by-state approach to our regulatory process,” said Adhar Johnson, project manager for Grain Belt Express.
The project is one of several renewable energy transmission line projects for developer Clean Line Energy Partners. The Houston company received a key regulatory approval in May when the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission authorized Clean Line to negotiate power sales from the Grain Belt Express transmission line.
Johnson said the company has done preliminary work in Illinois, including identifying a potential route that would enter the state near Hannibal, Missouri, and leave the state at Sullivan, Indiana. The Illinois Rivers transmission line would follow a similar track. A portion of the Illinois Rivers route runs through southern Sangamon County near Pawnee.
Grain Belt Express has not yet filed an application with the Illinois Commerce Commission, which would have to approve the project.
“We won’t start construction until we have all the regulatory approvals,” Johnson said.
Depending on the pace of that process, construction likely would begin in 2017 and take two to three years, according to the company.
Block Grain Belt Express, www.blockgbe.com, has become an umbrella group for project opponents across Kansas, Missouri, Illinois and Indiana.
Members have organized petition drives, letter-writing campaigns and attended informational meetings set up by the company in an effort to block a transmission line they contend is not needed and would reduce land values, take valuable farmland out of production and create a health hazard.
The group also has filed testimony with the Illinois Commerce Commission opposing a separate Clean Line Energy project near Rock Island.
“A lot of people saw dollar signs and thought this was no big deal,” said Susan Sack, a retired teacher from Mendota and member of the Illinois chapter.
“This is a group of investors who have never done anything with transmission lines before,” she said. ”They have no experience, but they have money.”
Sack said the Illinois Farm Bureau, Commonwealth Edison and the Illinois Land Owners Association have all filed testimony with the ICC opposing the Rock Island project.
Peoria attorney William Shay represents a group of landowners opposed to the Rock Island transmission line. He also has worked with landowners opposed to Ameren’s Illinois Rivers transmission line.
“It’s some of the same issues, but we’re focused more (with Grain Belt) on what the project was needed for,” Shay said.
He said opposition in the Illinois Rivers case was focused on the proposed route. The Grain Belt Express route could become an issue as well once a formal application is filed, Shay said.
State clean-energy portfolios that require steadily greater use of renewable power are driving the construction of new transmission lines, said Sean Brady, regional policy manager for Wind on the Wires, a wind-energy advocacy group.
The Illinois standard requires investor-owned utilities and retail power marketers to get 25 percent of supplies from renewable energy by 2025.
“We no longer have the hub-and-spoke dynamic, where the utility builds a transmission line and runs it near Springfield to supply power,” Brady said. “These lines can be used by any form of generation. They (Grain Belt) are specifically targeting wind developers and renewable developers to use that line.”
Both Grain Belt Express and Illinois Rivers transmission lines are aimed at moving wind-generated power from states such as Kansas to the Eastern states that have their own clean-energy standards but little wind-generation capacity.
“There will be an increasing need for renewable energy,” Brady said. “All of these states have renewable portfolio standards.”
Clean Line Energy would be required to hold the same round of public hearings required of Ameren prior to land acquisition and construction in Illinois.
Johnson said a formal application for Grain Belt Express in Illinois likely would be filed within a year, assuming regulatory approval in Missouri. She said the company also expected there would be opposition to the project.
“It happens with big infrastructure projects,” Johnson said. “It’s our goal to work with each and every landowner. There’s been a lot of misinformation.”
Opponents are not convinced.
Sack, the retired teacher, said local officials in Kansas, Missouri and Indiana who initially backed Grain Belt Express have had second thoughts once they learned details of the project.
“Each state has a different process,” Sack said. ”We want to show people this is not in their best interest.”
Grain Belt Express
Developer: Clean Line Energy Partners; Houston-based company specializes in transmission line development for renewable energy.
Estimated cost: $2 billion.
Capacity: 3,500 megawatts, approximately enough electricity to supply 1.4 million homes.
Proposed route: Plan is to carry wind-generated electricity from western Kansas through central Missouri and central Illinois to Indiana.
What’s next: Has received regulatory approval in Kansas and Indiana; pending in Missouri and not yet filed in Illinois.
On the Web: www.grainbeltexpresscleanline.com
Unlike traditional U.S. transmission lines that use alternating current, the Grain Belt Express line would rely on direct current transmission of electricity. Direct current is considered more efficient for moving large amounts of power over long distances.
Grain Belt Express would include three “converter stations,” including one in Illinois, that would convert the DC electricity to AC for distribution to the power grid.
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