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Utility board denies separate eminent domain hearing request for wind power line

The proposed Rock Island Clean Line 500-mile wind energy line will run through Iowa to Illinois

Wind turbines in operation at the Laurel Wind Project in Marshall County on Friday, June 20, 2014. (Stephen Mally/The Ga
Wind turbines in operation at the Laurel Wind Project in Marshall County on Friday, June 20, 2014. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette-KCRG TV9)

The Iowa Utilities Board won’t hold a separate hearing to consider eminent domain issues tied to an energy company’s plans for a 500-mile, $2 billion power line carrying wind energy from northwest Iowa to Illinois.

Texas-based Clean Line Energy Partners, which is proposing the Rock Island Clean Line, wanted separate meetings to determine the public good of the project and issues surrounding taking private property for public use. In its ruling, the board said a two hearing process would be beneficial for Clean Line, but it would have a negative affect on landowners.

“The constitutional due process concerns alone are sufficient to justify denial of the motion,” the three-person board wrote in its ruling. “Even if it is assumed that those concerns could be addressed by clear notices, splitting the hearing would still improve the convenience of a few parties while detrimentally affecting the convenience of many others, particularly the affected landowners.”

The project calls for erecting towers to carry high voltage overhead lines through 1,540 parcels of land in 16 Iowa counties diagonally across the state from O’Brien to Scott. It would pass through Linn County.

Clean Line, which is seeking voluntary easements, said it still is evaluating the decision but “will continue advancing the Rock Island project to bring low-cost wind energy to market.”

“Despite the procedural decision, the fundamental need for the project remains: there is strong demand for cost competitive wind energy delivered from northwest Iowa to Illinois,” the group said in a statement. “Affordable clean energy is good for Iowa and America.”

The group said the project will support $7 million in new wind farms, bring thousands of jobs to Iowa and pay $2.5 million annually in taxes in counties hosting the line.

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In November, the Illinois Commerce Commission issued an order granting a Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity to construct and operate the Illinois portion, and the project has approval through the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

The Preservation of Rural Iowa Alliance, a group advocating on behalf of landowners and others, was supportive of the ruling. “This ruling was significant,” said the group’s attorney, Justin LaVan, said in a statement. “If the hearing was bifurcated and the board issued the franchises and determined the route following the first hearing, RICL’s negotiating leverage over the landowners would have been prejudicially powerful.”

The group said Clean Line in 18 months has obtained only 15 percent of the 1,540 parcels through voluntary easements, and 1,248 formal objections have been filed. If eminent domain is used, compensation is provided.

Clean Line’s application for an electric transmission franchise through the 16 counties still is active. The Utility Board is reviewing the information and will schedule a public hearing before making a final decision, board spokesman Donald Tormey said.

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