RAYMOND – Just weeks away from a decision by state regulators, landowners at a public meeting in Raymond on Tuesday had numerous questions about a high-voltage transmission line that would carry wind-generated electricity across central Illinois.
The Illinois Commerce Commission is expected to rule by the end of November on a section of the Grain Belt Express power line that would cross sections of nine counties from the Mississippi River south of Quincy to Indiana. The information meeting held at the Knights of Columbus Hall in Raymond was among seven across the region this week and next sponsored by developer Clean Line Energy of Houston.
Clean Line has promoted the multi-state project – wind energy produced in Kansas would cross Missouri and Illinois to Indiana – as a boost to renewable, clean energy. The company has estimated the $700 million Illinois portion of the $2 billion project would create 1,100 construction jobs. Illinois’ landowners would be paid $41.7 million over 20 years for easements and tower placement, according to the company.
Clean Line also has committed to payments to affected counties, including $2.4 million to Montgomery County, where landowners would be paid $3.1 million over 20 years for easements and tower placement.
Such promises have done little to convince landowners in her area, said Connie Beck, who represents District 1 on the Montgomery County Board. The district includes an area from Farmersville to Litchfield. Beck said opposition has been especially strong among farmers.
“They just don’t want it to interfere with the way they’re farming, and they’re afraid it’s going to,” said Beck. “The ones that I talk to, they don’t care what kind of money they offer, it’s not worth it to give up the control of their property. They just don’t want to do it.”
Beck said farmers also are concerned the company will use eminent domain to take land, though regulators have not yet approved that authority for Clean Line Energy.
Company representatives assured landowners at Tuesday’s meeting that the transmission line would follow existing right-of-way and property lines where possible, and that steps would be taken to protect farmland. Illinois project manager Amy Kurt said, even if Illinois regulators approve use of eminent domain, the company prefers voluntary, negotiated settlements.
“I think a lot of folks have concerns or questions because this is something new,” said Kurt. “It’s not every day that you have to think about a transmission line and what it would mean and how you would farm around it. We are doing these meetings in an effort to get that information to landowners. We’ve worked really hard to try to minimize the impact the project would have on agriculture and communities.”
Kurt said the latest round brings to about 40 the number of public meetings held on the project, including those required for state regulatory approval.
As they have at other public meetings, members of Block Grain Belt Express collected petition signatures and distributed information outside the Raymond meeting. The group also has filed opposition to the power line at the Illinois Commerce Commission, including to approval of eminent domain.
“We’re worried about them taking thousands of acres out of production,” said Helen Conlee, a group member from Carlinville. “It’s going to devalue the landowner’s property.”
Conlee said there also are health-care concerns for people and animals in the path of the power lines.
David White said he was trying to be practical when it came to farmland near Farmersville that has been in his family for nearly 70 years. White said he has attended other information meetings on the project and that a major concern remains company compensation for access to his land. He said he still has questions about maneuvering farm equipment around transmission poles and the effect of high-voltage power lines on GPS-based equipment.
“This is not a done deal by any means. There’s a lot of moving parts,” said White. “But when something happens, we’re probably going to have to accommodate that. It’s nice to say you can stand out in front of a project and say you’re going to stop it. But that’s not realistic. We’ve got power lines going across Illinois all the time.”
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