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Iowa landowners gathered in Brandon on Thursday morning for an informational meeting on the Rock Island Clean Line were skeptical but not hostile, said Beth Conley, a spokeswoman for the company that plans to build a $2 billion, 500-mile overhead direct current transmission line across much of the state.
“They asked some good questions, pretty typical of what we've heard at information meetings in other counties,” Conley said.
The project is intended to deliver 3,500 megawatts of wind power from northwest Iowa to communities in Illinois and other states to the east that have little wind power potential but a strong demand for clean, reliable energy, she said..
Brandon farmer Dick Sloan, whose fields lie along the preferred route, said he was torn by the decision he faces.
An environmentalist who supports production of clean, renewable energy, Sloan said he fears the damage to his soil that the line's construction would entail.
“I've been through this before when they took some of my land to build Interstate 380 (completed in 1985). I still can't grow good crops on some of that land,” he said.
Compaction from heavy equipment would damage his soil and the microorganisms that contribute to its health and productivity, he said.
“The damage can last forever. It devalues your property and encumbers its future uses,” he said.
Clean Line Energy Partners expects to file a franchise application with the Iowa Utilities Board during the first half of next year.
As of Tuesday, the board had already received 144 objections to the project, which means that it will be required to hold a public hearing before determining whether to grant the franchise.
Jim Sundermeyer, a utilities regulation engineer with the Iowa Utilities Board, said it would be up to the three appointed board members to determine whether the project has sufficient public benefit to merit a franchise. The board would also determine whether to grant the power of eminent domain if the franchisee requests it, he said.
Conley said the company hopes to secure all its necessary easements from willing sellers, but that seems unlikely given the formation of the Preservation of Rural Iowa Alliance, a grassroots landowners group committed to halting the 375-mile Iowa portion of the line.
“We're not opposed to green energy. We are opposed to a private company using eminent domain to secure property rights from unwilling landowners,” said Carolyn Sheridan, the group's president.
Explaining the project's rationale, Conley said northwest and north-central Iowa have high wind energy potential that is underutilized because of low nearby energy demand and the lack of a robust transmission grid.
The Rock Island Clean Line, she said, can efficiently transmit wind energy to Illinois and other heavily populated states to the east, where demand for clean energy is high.
Conley said wind power accounted for 24 percent of the energy consumed in Iowa last year and that the state has the potential to produce 44 times more wind energy than its residents could consume.
The company would convert alternating current produced by wind generators into direct current, which requires less infrastructure to transmit and loses less energy in the process. At a station in Morris, Ill., the direct current would be converted back to alternating current for use by consumers.
Transmission wires would be suspended from poles ranging in height from 110 to 150 feet and spaced from 3 to 6 per mile, depending on the type of pole used. Most poles would have just a single foundation with a relatively small footprint. But the tallest poles, called lattice towers, would have four foundations.
Landowners would be paid an easement based on the amount of land in the right of way and the number of poles on their property.
In a compensation example cited at the meeting, a landowner with two small-foundation poles erected on a half-mile-long, 145-foot-wide easement would get a one-time payment of $100,340.
The landowner would also be compensated for any damages that could include loss of crops or marketable timber, soil compaction or damage to drainage tile.
Company representatives emphasized that pole foundations occupy less than 1 percent of the easement and that the rest can be farmed. They also asserted that the company would return the land to pre-construction condition.
In Eastern Iowa, the company's preferred route covers 11.5 miles in Buchanan County, 6.25 miles in Benton, 40 miles in Linn, 12.3 miles in Jones, 30.25 miles in Cedar and 37 miles in Scott County.
Informational meetings will be held next month at the following times and places: Benton, 9 a.m. Dec. 3, at Wildcat Golf Course, Shellsburg; Linn, 3 p.m. Dec. 3, Prairie Hill Pavilion, 5680 Kacena Ave., Marion; Jones, 9 a.m. Dec. 4, Lawrence Community Center, Anamosa; Cedar, 3 p.m. Dec. 4, Cedar County Fairgrounds, Tipton; and Scott, Dec. 5, Clarion Hotel Conference Center, 5202 Brady St., Davenport.