WATERLOO | The battle to build an overhead, high-voltage electric transmission line moves into Northeast Iowa this week.
Public information meetings, the second set in a two-part series, begin Tuesday in Franklin and Butler counties. Others will then follow in rapid succession along the proposed route.
The fight comes to Black Hawk County on Wednesday.
Ted and Kim Junker farm in Grundy County. They don't like the idea of what constructing and maintaining towers, wires and service roads will mean to their operation west of Stout.
"The line is going to come right through here," Kim Junker says.
"There's going to be a lot of compaction and a lot of disruption to the fertility of the land," she adds.
Rock Island Clean Line wants to develop a transmission line by the same name. The company is a subsidiary of Clean Line Energy Partners based in Houston, Texas.
The proposed project spans 500 miles from O'Brien County in northwest Iowa across the state to Morris, Ill. The line would carry up to 3,500 megawatts. Estimated cost is $2 billion. If approved by the Iowa Utilities Board, construction would begin in 2015.
In northeast Iowa, the "optimal route" defined by Clean Line would pass through Franklin, Butler, Grundy, Black Hawk, Buchanan, Benton, Linn and Jones counties. The transmission line would leave Iowa after going through Cedar and Scott counties.
In notification letters to affected property owners and residents filed Oct. 2 with the Iowa Utilities Board, company officials note the "preferred route" may not be the final route. That will depend on negotiations with landowners for easements.
However, the eventual course will be within "the notification corridor" defined by maps distributed by the company.
In the letters, Hans Detweiler, director of development, highlights benefits of the project from Clean Line's point of view. The line will:
- Connect Iowa wind energy with communities in other states with high demand.
- Enable about $7 billion in new wind energy projects.
- Creating 5,000 construction and 500 permanent jobs.
"The project will deliver enough clean energy to power around 1.4 million homes, contribute to energy security, increase state and local tax revenues and reduce pollution," Detweiler states.
In documents filed with the utilities board, the company says its goals for the project coincide with concepts advanced by the Iowa Legislature. Clean Line quotes Iowa Code about "the intent of the general assembly to encourage ... the development of transmission capacity to export wind power generated in Iowa."
Opponents organized in July as the Preservation of Rural Iowa Alliance. According to documents filed with the utilities board, the nonprofit group claims it represents more than 100 landowners. Its website address suggests the group's main aim: iowastopRICL.com.
Clean Line notes negotiations with landowners for easements cannot begin until after the informational meetings in each county. The easements -- ideally 200 feet wide, according to the company -- would allow for construction, operation and maintenance of the transmission line.
The company can force the issue. If Clean Line cannot get "the necessary voluntary easements," the company could pursue eminent domain authority from the Iowa Utilities Board and condemn the properties.
The alliance's attorneys, Mark Truesdell and Justin LaVan in Des Moines, are encouraging landowners to press Clean Line's hand. They cite a number of reasons not to sign a voluntary easement, including negotiating a better price.
The goal, though, is to make Clean Line's "row very much harder to hoe."
Condemnation proceedings would require the company to "do an incredible amount of expensive work," according to Truesdell and LaVan. For each property, Clean Line would have to:
- Get a legal description.
- Provide a specific description of easement rights sought.
- Include names and addresses of owners and tenants.
- Draw maps.
- Locate buildings and existing electric lines.
Carolyn Sheridan, the alliance's board president, shared her objective in a message to members.
"Every parcel upon which it has to do all this work is one more shovel of dirt on the grave of this ... line," she wrote.
Clean Line included the attorneys' letter and Sheridan's message in documents filed with the Iowa Utilities Board.
"It is clear that the Alliance will seek to make this process unnecessarily burdensome and overly complicated before the board can even make its initial determination on whether the franchise should be granted," the company's lawyers conclude.
According to the company, Clean Line will need 1,247 private easements from 2,295 individuals or entities. And getting full cooperation is unlikely.
"Clean Line will not seek eminent domain unless ... extensive voluntary negotiations fail," according to documents filed by Clean Line with the utilities board. "However, due to the scale of the project, it is reasonable to assume that ... easements will need to be acquired through the use of eminent domain."
The line will be different from most of the nation's electric transmission power grid, which distributes alternating current. The Clean Line will instead transmit high voltage, direct current.
According to the company, direct current represents a more efficient option better able to transmit large amounts of power over distance. Other advantages include lower power losses from the line, smaller tower structures requiring less land and better ability to control power flow.
As of mid-October, residents, landowners and others had filed 85 objections, according to documents filed by Clean Line with the utilities board.
"The company says the company will compensate us, but I'm not sure they every really will be able to," Eric Andersen says. "It cuts through literally the best farmland in the world."
His acres are northwest of Dike. Andersen uses some to raise seed corn and frequently relies on cropdusters to apply chemicals. He also notes investments in precision-farming technology, such as GPS systems, that might be affected by high voltage overhead.
"Less efficient, less productive. There's just no way around it," Andersen says.
Ted Junker and his wife, Kim, say they support clean energy, including wind turbines. What they don't understand is why power generated in Iowa is going to Illinois and points farther east.
"Don't they have wind in Chicago?" Junker asks.
He also notes conditional approval Nov. 8 by the Iowa Utilities Board for Alliant Energy and Interstate Power and Light to build a generating station in Marshall County. The proposed $920 million plant would burn natural gas to make electricity even as the state ships "clean" wind energy across its border.
Andersen also objects to calling Clean Line an environmentally friendly project.
"They're packaging it as a 'green' project. The company has done a very good job of that," he says. "But I'm not sure the bottom line is really good for the environment and good for everyone. I think the bottom line is making a profit."
For Junker, simple aesthetics also play a role. He doesn't like the idea of towers on the horizon or closer.
"We don't want to look at it forever. We like rural Iowa and being rural."