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21st century farm-to-market road

By Staff | Jun 9, 2011

Cary Kottler, right, project development manager for the Rock Island Clean Lines project, listens to concerns of Myron and Mariann Cram, of Kossuth County concerning the transmission line. The Cram's were invited to an open house Friday, in Humboldt, because the line could potentially pass through their farm land.

By LARRY KERSHNER

Farm News news editor

HUMBOLDT – Potentially affected landowners and county officials were on hand Friday to seek information about a 3,500-megawatt direct current transmission line that will stretch 500 miles across Iowa, much of it through north and north central Iowa.

Officials with Clean Lines Energy Partners, based in Houston, Texas, held a two-hour open house at the Humboldt County Fairgrounds, attended by 51 people, to provide information about the planned project and to address local concerns.

Throughout the Farm News coverage area, the line could potentially boost tax revenues for the counties of O’Brien, Cherokee, Clay, Buena Vista, Hancock, Franklin, Webster, Humboldt, Pocahontas, Palo Alto, Kossuth, Wright, Hamilton, Hardin and Marshall depending on where the exact line will be staged, at a stated rate of $7,000 per mile per year.

Members of the Humboldt County Board of Supervisors attended last Friday's open house and met with Cary Kottler, development manager for the Rock Island Clean Lines project. From left are, Harlan Hansen, Kottler, John Christianson and Carl Mattes.

Other open house gatherings were held this week in Cherokee, Storm Lake, Paullina, Spencer, Pocahontas and Emmetsburg. Another 10 will be held next week across central and west central Iowa with a final slate of meetings the following week in Illinois.

Cary Kottler, project development manager for the project, christened Rock Island Clean Lines, met with government and economic development representatives last December to discuss openness for stretching the line through Iowa.

On Friday, Kottler said the study corridor for the line has been determined, but the exact route has not been identified. That should happen later this summer and another set of meetings to reveal the exact route will be held “sometime after harvest” in order to meet with targeted landowners.

Kottler said the company will be buying a 200-foot right-of-way for erecting poles, as well as compensating farmers and other landowners for such issues as field disruptions, broken tiles and crop losses during construction.

Kottler acknowledged that right-of-way agreements will need to be secured along the final route. He said condemnation proceedings could be part of the process. “But that would be our last resort,” he said. He explained that condemnation could be used to clean up unclear landownership or properties locked in probate action.

The yellow lines show the intended study corridors for the new direct current transmission line, called Rhode Island Clean Lines. The line could potentially pass through 14 counties in the Farm News coverage area.

A whole slate of federal, state and local permits will also be required, especially if the line should cross waterways. CLEP is also working out potential interconnect agreements.

Whether the right-of-way purchases will be one-time lump sum payments or annuities has not been determined. “We won’t know until we’ve presented to the Iowa Utility Board,” he said.

The series of open houses have been well-attended, said Hans Detweiler, director of development for CLEP.

He said the closer residents lived to the start of the line, which will be sited in either O’Brien or Cherokee county, the more interest was shown due to the potential of new wind farms cropping up to feed the new line.

CLEP, Kottler said, is determined to create as little disturbance on the land as possible while creating the transmission system, preferring to follow section lines, railroad right-of-ways and waterways.

He said they will be seeking to avoid as many residential areas as possible, wildlife refuges, endangered habitats and recreational areas.

Interested, skeptical

Myron and Mariann Cram drove down from southern Kossuth County after receiving an invitation from CLEP to attend the open house. They have a farm that potentially could be in the path of the transmission lines.

Myron Cram said they wanted to know where exactly the route would be, but those specifics were not available.

Mariann Cram said that although she sees the need for the project, she’s concerned about having the poles across their farm land and is also concerned about the health impact on livestock and humans living close to the high voltage lines.

Detweiler explained that most health issues are from alternative current lines. However, direct current lines are a different, citing studies from the World Health Organization, International Agency for Research on Cancer and the National Radiological Protection Board, stating there are no adverse impacts on animals or people living under or near direct current lines.

Harlan Hansen, John Christianson and Carl Matthes, all members of the Humboldt County Board of Supervisors, said they saw the potential influx of tax income as a boon to the county’s general fund.

If there were 20 miles of line through the county, at $7,000 per mile, it would garner a $140,000 annual shot in the arm for the county.

Mattes said if the income is classified as an ag tax, it will lead to lowering the taxable value of ag land, bringing no additional revenue benefit to the county. However, if it goes into the general fund, as wind turbine taxes do, “then that will help our budget.”

All three men said there has been no discussion if the county would share the new revenue with cities and school districts, or if it would apply it to infrastructure improvements.

“Today is the first time we’ve heard this,” Christianson said.

A need to move power

According to Detweiler, the intent is to spur additional wind turbine farm creation in Northwest Iowa, Northeast Nebraska and Southwest South Dakota.

CLEP’s website (www.clealineenergy.com) said there is a potential for erecting as many as 2,000 new wind turbines, creating 3,500 megawatts of power, which would then be transferred from near Sioux City to Rock Island, Ill. From there, it would be used to supply power to Chicago and farther east. Potentially, there are 14 states that could benefit from the extra electricity.

“The HVDC line can transmit enough electricity to power 1.4 million households,”?Detweiler said. “That’s more than Minnesota uses in a year,” Detweiler said. In 2009, Iowa’s wind energy capabilities grew by 10,000 megawatts. This project would be roughly 25 percent of that single year’s advance, he added.

Kottler said that the $1.7 billion transmission line, could spur an additional $7 billion in wind turbine investments within the three states, although CLEP would not be involved in creating those farms. He said there is the potential for a substantial number of the turbines to be erected in Northwest Iowa.

Detweiler said this is the start of a four-phase, six-year development plan. “Right now we are at phase one-half.”

Michael Skelly, president of Clean Line Energy Partners, said that Midwest wind energy generation grew by 40 percent for each of the past several years, until construction of turbines came to a near halt in 2010.

“There’s plenty of wind out there,” Skelly said, there’s just not an efficient transmission system. “We need to get the harvested wind energy to places that need it.” Concerning the 3,500 megawatts of new generation, he added, “This is a significant amount of power.”

Contact Larry Kershner at (515) 573-2141, Ext. 453, or kersh@farm-news.com.

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