PANA – Christian County Sheriff Bruce Kettelkamp wasn’t expecting trouble at an Illinois Commerce Commission hearing on a proposed high power electrical transmission line Wednesday morning, but he was ready for it.
Kettelkamp, several Christian County deputies and commission police were on hand at Pana Junior High School as more than 200 residents filed in for a hearing on whether Clean Line Energy should receive permission to build the Grain Belt Express.
The proposed transmission system would bring wind energy from western Kansas to the eastern seaboard on high power lines crossing Kansas, Missouri and more than 200 miles in Illinois. The proposal has stirred debate among landowners and sparked fears the commission might allow Clean Line to use eminent domain laws to force property owners to give the corporation property easements.
“I had a call from a concerned citizen that Clean Line would be using college students in buses to fill the seats at the hearing,” Kettelkamp said. “We thought it would be good to be here and support the ICC officers.”
Mark Lawler, Clean Line director of development, said the proposed power line would modernize the electrical transmission grid and cause a fall in wholesale energy prices throughout the Midwest, even though the company is not planning to sell the power directly in Illinois.
“Local residents will benefit from increased competition,” he said. “This project will reduce overall market prices for electricity.”
Lawler said his company was prepared to spend $41 million in lease agreements to landowners and governmental entities. He said Christian County, as an example, would receive $3.7 million from Grain Belt Express over a 20-year period.
Dozens of people spoke for three minutes each during the three-hour hearing. Landowners said the proposed power line towers would interfere with farming, destroy woodlands, affect property values and be an eyesore on rural landscapes.
Colleen Nuxhall, a village trustee from the Shelby County village of Sigel, was one of the overwhelming majority of speakers opposed to the power line.
“My first concern is the proposed route would limit Sigel’s ability to grow,” she said. “The lines would be less than a quarter mile north of Sigel, and we are landlocked by a cemetery, the county line and Interstate 57 on the other sides. We would have no space to grow at all.”
Nuxhall also said power lines would restrict air services such as crop dusting and emergency helicopter ambulances. Other opponents of the line said GPS services in farm equipment would be disabled by electrical interference.
Supporters testifying included business owners who could benefit from power line construction and supporters of renewable energy.
“I’m a scientist by profession and an environmentalist and farm girl by choice,” said Patty Rykhus of Taylorville. “Our infrastructure is aging and needs to be replaced, and this is one way to do it. I want my power company, Shelby Electric, to be able to offer a renewable energy source.”
Landowners said preventing Clean Line from getting access to property through governmental eminent domain rulings was their main concern at the hearing. Lawler said Clean Line was not asking the commission for eminent domain rulings.
“We’re doing this on a parcel by parcel basis,” he said. “Not on a project basis. It’s in our best interest to reach a voluntary agreement with landowners.”
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