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Wind-energy transmission project draws skepticism in Shelby County

A massive project to transmit wind-generated electricity from Kansas to Illinois and surrounding states drew curiosity, protests and skepticism when the developer met with Shelby County residents on Tuesday.

Clean Line Energy officials talked with the landowners who would be affected by three proposed routes through Shelby County townships south of Illinois 16.

David Compton of Tower Hill listened to the presentation about the “Grain Belt Express Clean Line.” Company representatives explained how the wind energy would be transmitted from southwestern Kansas to the Eastern Grid link in western Indiana with minimal impact on the land.

“I don’t think anybody here wants it,” Compton said. “I don’t see any benefit to Shelby County.”

Compton said residents are concerned about the project’s effect on well water and other impacts of the overhead transmission lines. A right-of-way between 150 and 200 feet wide will be needed for the project, which stretches across 750 miles. The Illinois Commerce Commission must sign off on the portion that runs through this state.

“At some point, it is going to decrease property values,” Compton said.

Outside the Church of the Nazarene Fellowship Hall, members of a grassroots protest group gathered to tell landowners of their opposition to the project. Inside the hall, company officials told of its benefits.

“Our objective is to get more landowners here to comment on the project,” said Clean Line representative Ally Smith. “There will be two more public meetings early next year. We’re looking to have large landowner involvement at those meetings. There’s a lot of misinformation out there.”

The company asked landowners to locate their property on the maps and mark any outstanding features, such as cemeteries or buildings. Landowners also filled out comment cards.

“This is in the early stages of development with a lot of unanswered details,” said Joe Woodall, Rose Township Supervisor. “Rose Township officials will do their best to represent the landowners in the township in this matter.”

Dustin Probst of the Dove & Dove Law Firm – a landowner himself – noted that the private company is seeking approval from all of the states involved.

“I’m curious to dig into the details to see if Clean Line could be a public utility to determine if they have power of eminent domain,” Probst said, referring to a process that could force landowners to sell their property to the project.

“I think they are putting the cart before the horse and forcing the landowner to spend valuable time into this when they are not sure if they have the power to transmit,” Probst said. “If they are not a public utility, they have to negotiate and pay for every easement with the landowners.

“They are filing for expedited review with the (Illinois Commerce Commission) which provides for limited time for landowners to object and even shorter filing periods, which constrains ability to have fair and full hearings insuring that due process rights of each landowner are protected,” Probst said.

“Our firm is looking into calling a meeting of landowners and invite other interested parties to discuss what options are available to the landowners of Shelby County,” the lawyer added.