The Rock Island Clean Line Wednesday officially applied with the state for pubic utility status, but local land owners in its path fear the company will get the power of eminent domain to take their property despite their wishes.
But Hans Detweiler, Clean Line Energy Partners director of development, says it is required to get public utility status to move forward with its project, not because it wants to forcefully take people's property.
Clean Line Energy Partners is planning to install its transmission line in Grundy County to deliver wind energy from areas of the Midwest to the east. The company is looking to bring its Rock Island Clean Line to deliver 3,500 megawatts of renewable energy to communities that do not have easy access to wind energy.
In 2010, the company filed an application for public utility status with the Illinois Commerce Commission. The ICC recommended the public utility application be simultaneous with the application for approval to construct the line, said Detweiler. So the company withdrew the 2010 application and submitted a combined application Wednesday.
The transmission lines will result in billions of dollars invested in wind farms, putting thousands to work building turbine materials and constructing the turbines. In addition, there will be local jobs with the construction of a $250 million converter station to be built in Channahon. About 1,400 construction jobs a year are expected in Illinois for three years as a result of the entire project.
Grundy County will be the end of this line, where the energy is converted into usable voltage and run through the old Collins substation to move the power east.
"They are not a utility company. But it's interesting now they are dealing with the (Illinois Commerce Commission) for the power of eminent domain . . . it's kind of a scary thought," said Morris farmer Henry Babson.
Applying for public utility status and for approval to construct does not grant Clean Line the power of eminent domain, which is the power to take private property.
"These two things by themselves don't give us eminent domain and the petition (filed) is not to request eminent domain," said Detweiler. "It would be illegal to construct or open the line without public utility status in Illinois."
Eminent domain would not be appropriate to request until all efforts for volunteer negotiations have failed, he said. If so, it could be a future option to request eminent domain.
"But there are no current plans to do that," he said. "We're strongly committed to volunteer land acquisition."
Clean Line's attorney dealing with land acquisition has been able to keep eminent domain use to less than 2 percent in her past experience, Detweiler said. And the only two reasons it has been used is when the estate holder cannot be found or when the company receives no response from letters to the owners.
SETTING THE COURSE
The proposed routes go from La Salle County to Grundy, ending at Collins Station. There are two route sections in Grundy County, an AC Section and a DC Section.
The AC section runs from the existing Collins substation to the north, crossing the river and canal, to its converter station site on Bungalow Road. Most of this is parallel to existing AC lines, said Detweiler. The DC section continues north from along the existing AC lines to a point about three quarters of a mile south of Sherrill Road, where it turns west running to La Salle County.
The Rock Island Clean Line plans to transport this clean power 500 miles through a high-voltage direct current transmission (HVDC) line. A direct current line allows for a lot more power to be moved than through an alternating current (AC) line. Moving direct current can be more costly, but it is more efficient.
Once the direct current hits Grundy, it will need to be converted to an alternate current for usable voltage. This will be done through the converter station to be constructed in Channahon's village limits on property owned by Five Star. The property is on the south side of the I&M Canal and on the north side of Bungalow Road.
AGAINST THE FLOW
"I don't want it whether it's through my backyard or anybody's backyard. It's something that is not good for Illinois," said Jeanette Carothers, farm owner in La Salle.
Carothers believes this because of the farmland she feels will be wasted because of the project.
Of the 500 miles the line goes across, 120 miles are in Illinois. Less than 3,000 acres in Illinois are being purchased for easements to put the towers on, said Detweiler. Of the 3,000 acres, 12 acres will be taken up by the tower footings.
Clean Line has maintained that row crops such as corn and soybeans can be farmed under the towers still.
"This land is some of the best land in the world. You can't renew it," said Carothers. "If you give them the right-away, it's a terrible thing to give away."
Farmers who try to farm under the towers will have to worry about who is responsible if something happens to the tower or their equipment while maneuvering around the footings, she said. It is possible to farm under it, she said, but it's not easy.
Whether the project goes through his property or someone else's, Babson said the benefits of the project will not be for Illinois, he said; it's just going through our state.
"I'm not against anything that comes through. I'm against people not explaining what is actually happening," said Babson.
Babson said Clean Line officials have been quoted as saying the line cannot happen unless wholesale electricity rates climb 50 percent higher than they are today. Something he said they are not making widely known.
Detweiler's response is this statistic was taken out of context. With the recession, prices have gone down in the last two to three years and this is expected to change, he said. A number of things have to happen in order for the project to be successful that do not make up one percentage, he said, including the value of renewable energy standards and wind turbine technology costs.
The benefits Illinois will see include decreased power costs due to increased competition, said Detweiler. He compared it to the growth and delivery of corn.
"If you deliver a huge amount of corn into the county it's going to lower corn prices and people benefit regardless (of who they buy from) . . . everybody buys the market price. The prices are lower either way," he said.
In addition, Clean Line is investing millions into Grundy County with the construction of the $250 million converter station in Channahon and its agreements with the counties it goes through, giving it $7,0000 a mile a year, said Missy Durkin, of the Grundy Economic Development Council. The $7,000 will go to the taxing bodies.
"On our side, there is about $600 million being invested, and half that investment is in Grundy County alone. We're looking at a significant investment and a huge advantage that they set their sights on Grundy County," she said.
Clean Line first introduced the project to the local stake holders two years ago, said Durkin, who complimented Clean Line's open communication with all the municipalities involved.
In those two years, Clean Line researched multiple locations for the line, including running it along Interstate 80, but there were too many homes on that route, said Detweiler. This was the same problem with its original plan to run it along the Rock Island Railroad — which is where the line's name is from.