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Developer readies routes for major transmission line

Developers of a high-voltage power line dedicated to wind energy plan to go to state regulators this spring with proposed and alternate routes across sections of nine central Illinois counties.

The goal, subject to approval by the Illinois Commerce Commission, is to have power flowing in 2019.

“We’re hoping to have (route) approval by the end of the year,” said Amy Kurt, manager for the Grain Belt Express project. “That would put us on track to start construction in 2017 and to begin operations in 2019.”

The central Illinois section is part of a larger $2 billion, 750-mile development of Houston-based Clean Line Energy Partners that would carry electricity from yet-to-be-built wind farms in western Kansas across portions of Iowa, Missouri and Illinois to Indiana. As in other states, a group of central Illinois landowners is attempting to block the project as unneeded and as a threat to health, the environment, agriculture and property values.

Grain Belt Express just completed a third round of hearings before submitting the proposed and alternate routes to the Illinois Commerce Commission. The routes from the Mississippi River to the Indiana border cut across portions of Pike, Scott, Greene, Macoupin, Montgomery, Christian, Shelby, Cumberland and Clark counties.

Kurt said changes were made based on meetings with the public and with local government representatives along the route. Additional minor changes are possible, she said.

“We started last year with a number of route segments we were considering,” Kurt said. “We received hundreds of comments with landowners, and we were able to narrow down the routes we think would have the least impact.”

Kurt said, where possible, the routes follow property lines to avoid residential areas and to prevent use of prime farmland. Company executives also have touted the signing of an “agricultural impact mitigation agreement” with the Illinois Department of Agriculture. The agreement commits Clean Line Energy to protection of farmland and restoration where necessary.

Rural Girard resident David Buckman, who lives near the proposed path in northern Macoupin County, is among organizers of the local Block Grain Belt Express opposition group. Branches of Block Grain Belt Express also have fought the power line in other states.

In addition to environmental concerns, Buckman said plans announced by Clean Line Energy to seek designation as a public utility under Illinois law would allow the company to use eminent domain to take property from reluctant landowners.

“A private company getting utility status would mean use of eminent domain,” he said. “There’s no reason for this company to be here other than they want to make a profit.”

The group also maintains that Clean Line Energy has exaggerated the number and quality of jobs that would be created by construction and the power line.

Buckman said the legal arm of Block Grain Belt Express would oppose the project at the ICC once the company files a formal application.

Opponents have held a series of alternative public meetings at about the same time as the Grain Belt Express meetings, and Buckman said more are planned.

“We’re still been meeting,” he said. “We’ve just taken a little breather.”