WATERLOO | The war continues, but rural property owners are claiming a victory in what they see as a key battle against the Rock Island Clean Line’s proposal to run an electric-power transmission system across the state.
On Friday, the Iowa Utilities Board denied a motion from Rock Island Clean Line to consider eminent domain separately from granting approval for construction of a 500-mile transmission line that would carry 3,500 megawatts of wind-generated direct current from O’Brien County in northwest Iowa to the Quad-Cities area, where it will cross the Mississippi River into Illinois.
The current would be generated for use on the U.S. East Coast.
“That’s a good thing for us,” said Ted Junker, a farmer near Stout in northeastern Grundy County who opposes the line.
“In the normal franchise request, there’s very few objections – usually less than 10 percent; in this case, Rock Island has less than 15 percent voluntary easements signed. So they had a lot of work to do going forward,” Junker said.
RICL filed a motion to separate the eminent domain issue from approval of the project.
Junker and his wife, Kim, have demonstrated their opposition to the line, which would cross a parcel of their land, by placing semi trailers proclaiming “Stop RICL” and “Stop Eminent Domain Abuse” in large red letters along both sides of U.S. Highway 20 in Grundy County.
In early November, RICL, a subsidiary of Houston-based Clean Line Energy Partners LLC, filed petitions with the IUB, asking for permission to construct and operate the line.
RICL says the project will generate enough electricity to power 1.4 million homes.
The private line would deliver electricity generated by 2,000 wind turbines Clean Line-contracted developers will build in O’Brien County in northwest Iowa to customers in Illinois and eastern states via a converter station near Morris, Ill., Clean Line Energy said.
Developers say the $2 billion project would lead to $7 billion in new wind farm investments, create more than 5,000 construction jobs and 500 permanent ones.
Iowa won’t get any of the electricity, but the state will get an economic jolt, said Beth Conley, Iowa manager for Rock Island Clean Line in Des Moines.
Clean Line said separate consideration of the eminent domain issue is necessary because “the number of objectors and supporters has increased significantly, making separate proceedings even more efficient.”
RICL also argued without bifurcation, it would have to survey all parcels for which it had not negotiated easements, which would create a an unduly long, detailed process.
“It will just take them longer because they have to do a lot more paperwork,” Ted Junker said. “There’s more than 1,300 landowners that have not signed, so that’s a huge undertaking on their part to try and identify all those parcels.”
RICL argued separating the issues allowed for easier access to all parties to hearings, which could have been held in each affected county.
The IUB was not swayed. A single hearing was a more convenient option for affected landowners, the board said.
“Clean Line has not demonstrated that the convenience of all of the parties will be improved by bifurcation,” the board ruled. “It has, at best, shown that Clean Line’s convenience (and costs) would be benefited, but at the same time landowner interests would be detrimentally affected.”
The ruling does not change the need for the project, RICL said in a news release.
“Despite the procedural decision, the fundamental need for the project remains: There is strong demand for cost-competitive wind energy delivered from northwest Iowa to Illinois,” the company said. “The Rock Island Clean Line is an important infrastructure project that would enable Iowa to significantly grow the wind industry in the state.”
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