Landowners in northwest Iowa’s O’Brien County have different views of a Houston-based company’s plans to build one of five large-scale high voltage transmission lines across Iowa. If the Clean Line Energy Partners project goes through, it will take about 50 acres of Jay Hofland’s farm where wind power from turbines nearby will be fed into a direct current high voltage power line that’ll span 500 miles across the entire state.
Hofland says the two-billion dollar project called the Rock Island Clean Line is an economic boon for O’Brien County even though it is going in next door. “And for me, this gives us a real opportunity for some investment in our county, hopefully for some additional jobs. And a chance for my sons who are 18 and 20 — or other kids like them — to have an opportunity to live around here,” Hofland says.
Clean Line’s Regional Manager, Beth Conley, says the project will increase the capacity of Iowa’s wind energy industry, because it creates a way to deliver electricity to states further east. “A number of those states have passed renewable portfolio standards that will require them to have so much of their energy from clean or renewable sources, some as early as 2015,” Conley says.
She says eastern states don’t have the capacity to create that wind locally that Iowa does, and that’s why they want to generate the power here and send it east. “Because there’s not a lot of demand for energy up in northwest Iowa, and really not a lot of demand in Iowa that’s not already being met,” Conley explains.
Many people in O’Brien County have already leased some of their land to other wind energy projects, like a 218-turbine field funded by MidAmerican Energy, slated for completion in 2015. But others aren’t so keen. Future neighbors formed “Preservation of Rural Iowa Alliance.” Group director Carolyn Sheridan says one of her major sticking points about the line, is that it sends wind power out of state. “We feel that a high-voltage transmission line coming across Iowa should benefit Iowans for their electrical consumption,” Sheridan says. “We also feel that we should be listened to. We should have a say in what happens to property.”
Sheridan says property owners need a voice here, because utility projects like Clean Line can be granted approval by the Iowa Utilities Board, to seek eminent domain, forcing landowners to sell easements if certain criteria are met. “We want to make sure it’s responsible. We are concerned about unintended consequences,” according to Conley.
In Illinois, where the Rock Island Clean Line would end, the opposition is even stronger-the state’s Farm Bureau formally opposed it last year. A spokesperson for Clean Line says they want all land acquisition to be voluntary-that’s why they’ve begun negotiations long before their anticipated construction dates. At least 78 people in four northwest Iowa counties have already filed objections to the Iowa Utilities Board, and the board expects more when Clean Line opens negotiations in counties further east.
Darrel Dodge, who farms and raises cattle near Hartley, in O’Brien county, has covered a roadside produce stand on his property with “Block the RICL” posters. He says the compensation Clean Line is offering isn’t worth the damage to his fields during construction. “For one thing, it’ll depreciate the value of the farm. For two, farming around them is the pits –plus I’m not sure how healthy it is living directly under it,” Dodge says.
Dodge says he’s worried about the Blue Herons that nest near his farm. Besides, Dodge says-northwest Iowa is no stranger to companies coming in to promise local jobs and tax revenue, and then not following through. With a project scope that goes through 16 of Iowa’s 99 counties, Clean Line has a lot of landowners to convince.
Daryl Haack, who farms in Primghar, has begun organizing O’Brien County farmers to negotiate with Clean Line as he says this isn’t the last project in this county. “This area is going to be covered in windmills. If we can help make those easements fair, make those contracts fair, make sure they are all comparable,” Haack says. Haack is also a board member of the Iowa Renewable Fuels Association. He says the cattle and hogs raised there are not all used in O’Brien county — they’re shipped where they’re needed, and there no difference when you do the same with electricity.
The contracts offered landowners range in size, and Clean Line won’t disclose what they offer when negotiations are underway. But Clean Line’s presentation to the Illinois Commerce Commission included a slide saying landowners were compensated $8,000 per acre, plus a lump sum per structure on their property, depending on how big it was. They could also opt for smaller annual payments.