High Voltage Controversy Over Big Power Line

Iowa Farm Scene

A plan to build an electricity transmission line across Iowa is generating concerns from a number of farmers and other landowners.

Published on: December 4, 2013

A company based in Houston, Texas, is planning to build an overhead high-voltage transmission line from northwest Iowa to Illinois and other states east of the Mississippi River. The power line would deliver electricity from wind turbines in northwest Iowa to cities in Illinois and Eastern states.

Clean Line Energy is the company wanting to build this transmission line, and the project is called the Rock Island Clean Line or RICL project. If built, the line would cross 16 Iowa counties, would stretch 500 miles and involve over 1,000 landowners in Iowa. Some say up to 2,200 landowners in total.

Starting in O'Brien County in far northwest Iowa, near Sanborn, the line would travel 375 miles in Iowa, cross the border near Davenport, and go another 125 miles in Illinois, ending up at Morris, Illinois. The line would deliver electricity to Illinois communities, including the Chicago area.

ROCK ISLAND CLEAN LINE: A plan to build a power line across Iowa to deliver electricity from wind turbines in northwest Iowa to consumers in Illinois and Eastern states is generating resistance and concern from a number of landowners. They worry about use of eminent domain and other issues related to the proposed Rock Island Clean Line.
ROCK ISLAND CLEAN LINE: A plan to build a power line across Iowa to deliver electricity from wind turbines in northwest Iowa to consumers in Illinois and Eastern states is generating resistance and concern from a number of landowners. They worry about use of eminent domain and other issues related to the proposed Rock Island Clean Line.

The company is holding public information meetings this fall in Illinois and in Iowa regarding RICL. This week, the latest series of meetings is being held in Iowa. They are Dec. 3 in Benton County and in Linn County, Dec. 4 in Jones County and Cedar County, and Dec. 5 in Scott County. The project has to be approved by the Iowa Utilities Board before the power line can be built. Beginning with this fall's public information meetings and then moving through the approval process, the line could take five to seven years to complete.

Some landowners see Rock Island Clean Line as good for Iowa, others are against it, and many still haven't decided

Some farmers and landowners in Iowa have already signed an option with Clean Line Energy. The company has an option on their land for possible construction of the line. People who favor this power line view RICL as a source of employment for Iowans and as a source of property tax revenue for the counties it would run through. Other farmers and landowners are against the line. They see it as a company trying to take private land for the company's benefit. Some also object that the line would cut across prime farmland.~~~PAGE_BREAK_HERE~~~

The company says this is an opportunity for Iowa to export wind power, just like Iowa exports corn, soybeans and other farm commodities. People who are voicing opposition point out that none of the electricity carried by the line will be used in Iowa. They contend that the line isn't like a public highway where everyone can use it. It isn't for the public good, they say.

Beth Conley is Clean Line Energy's project manager for RICL. The company is working with landowners in Iowa, trying to get them to sign an easement and allow Clean Line to build across the landowners' property. Farmers and other landowners began getting letters from the company about the proposed project this past summer. Located in northwest Iowa, Clay County farmer Carolyn Sheridan is president of the Preservation of Rural Iowa Alliance, a group of about 100 landowners whose property is in the path of the proposed RICL power line.

Iowa Utilities Board has not yet approved the project, and will hold public hearings

The Iowa Utilities Board has already received objections from some landowners opposed to the project. So the IUB will have to hold hearings in each county that would be affected, giving the company the opportunity to further explain the project to the public. Those meetings have to be held before the IUB can grant approval to Clean Line Energy to go ahead and build the power line, according to IUB spokesman Rob Hillesland.

Conley, Clean Line Energy's project manager in Iowa, says the company wants to pay landowners for a transmission easement; the company isn't buying or leasing the land. The landowner gets a one-time easement payment per acre for land around the line, for a width that's 145 to 200 foot wide. She says the company will also pay landowners for any damage to crops or other issues that arise as the line is built--such as soil compaction or damage to tile lines.~~~PAGE_BREAK_HERE~~~

Also, Conley says the company will pay $7,000 per mile in county property taxes. In Iowa, that would total to a little over $2.5 million annually. She says farmers can continue to plant crops and graze livestock under the power line, but buildings or permanent structures aren't allowed. In planning the route, she says Clean Line will build around existing structures.

Company could use eminent domain to gain access to land, in cases where landowners refuse to sign an easement

Sheridan says her group, the Preservation of Rural Iowa Alliance, isn't against the development of renewable energy. Wind power is green energy and that is good, she says. However, she says the landowners' group is opposed to a transmission line where the landowners have no choice.

If the Iowa Utilities Board grants Clean Line Energy a franchise to build the line, the project could move forward and the company could use the legal process of eminent domain if some landowners refuse to sign a voluntary easement with Clean Line. Sheridan's group has hired an attorney and is also contacting state legislators to try to get them to address these concerns.

If you have wind turbines on your property, you get to choose and you can work with the power company that's building the wind turbines, to get them to locate the turbines where you want them and you can negotiate a payment, says Sheridan. But with the RICL transmission line, you have no choice and no freedom to negotiate if the company uses eminent domain to force you to give them access to your land.

If you want more information on this issue, Sheridan's group has a website at www.iowastopricl.com. The Rock Island Clean Line Energy site is www.rockislandcleanline.com. There is contact information on these sites if you want to contact either Clean Line Energy company or the Preservation of Rural Iowa Alliance.