By JO ANN HUSTIS
OTTAWA, Ill. — At least one northeastern Illinois county wants an impartial study of a $1.7 billion electric utility project that includes a high-voltage direct current (DC) transmission line across some of the nation’s most fertile farmland.
The project extends east from Rock Island County on the Mississippi River to Grundy County 50 miles southwest of Chicago. By unanimous agreement Sept. 10, the La Salle County Board approved the resolution asking the Illinois Commerce Commission (ICC) to provide the study of the Rock Island Clean Line (RICL) project before granting the proposal public utility status.
Board Chair Jerry Hicks, D-Marseilles, said 14 board members approached him on occasions after the Clean Line project was announced, saying additional education was needed “for what’s going on, and this is what brought about tonight’s resolution.” He said landowners question the line’s impact on farmland in the RICL corridor area.
“By resolution, we’re asking the ICC for an additional impartial study,” he added. “As you well know, the majority of land in La Salle County is farmland, and that’s where our concern comes in.”
The Clean Line project would transmit 3,500 megawatts of electricity – generated in part by wind farms in Nebraska, South Dakota, Minnesota and western Iowa – on tower transmission lines to a $250 million converter station proposed for the village of Channahon in Grundy County. From there, the power would be transmitted to Eastern states.
A Sept. 7 report in The Times of Ottawa noted many rural residents are concerned Clean Line may be granted public utility status by the ICC, allowing RICL to forcibly take the land it wants from private residents through eminent domain.
“Unless they get the right of eminent domain, (I don’t believe) this line will go through. At least up where I live, it’s not,” board member Steve Abel said in the article. He thought the affected property owners would not agree to anything without the threat or implementation of eminent domain.
The county board resolution seeks an independent study of the impact high-voltage power lines would have on local rural communities. Because this meeting was not a public hearing, no outside comment was allowed on the proposal. Issues, however, include whether high-voltage power lines will affect human and animal health, and that crop dusting will be virtually impossible because of the 75-foot-high power lines crossing the fields.
An alternate suggestion is to possibly run the power lines along Interstate 80. The final map of the exact route, which initially was to follow the former Rock Island Railroad line, is set for release early next year.
The ICC is being asked to make public all solutions and possible routes before the RICL delivers its application to the state. Also, the resolution states total funding for all options “should match the amount Illinois taxpayers would contribute to the RICL and assume for all regional Midwest ISO/PJM high-voltage transmission development to promote sales in Eastern markets.”
An ISO, or Independent System Operator, is formed or recommended by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to coordinate, control and monitor operation of the electrical power system in one or multiple states. PJM is a federally regulated regional transmission organization that acts independently and impartially in managing the regional transmission system and wholesale electricity market. PJM ensures reliability of the largest centrally dispatched grid in North America.
In addition, the county board resolution asks the ICC about the impact by Clean Line on job creation and renewable energy development in Illinois, regional carbon emissions reduction and policies to limit distributed generation and other energy self-sufficiency goals.
Further, the resolution states a new transmission line could lower property values, income and development potential of prime farmland and increase crop production time and costs, the resolution states.
Building a transmission line would require condemnation of property, including prime nonrenewable farmland, for easements. The line would mainly serve “points east,” not the majority of Illinois residents, the resolution adds.
A report by the Center for Rural Affairs in Lyons, Neb., noted the Rock Island project is unique in that it will be paid for by renewable energy operators and utilities who buy capacity. In other words, it will be paid for in much the same way as a toll road.
It stated Clean Line can go forward with this “novel approach” by employing high-voltage DC technology, instead of the alternating current technology typically used. High-voltage DC is high efficiency, limiting load loss and minimizing the space required for transmission infrastructure by smaller, shorter towers with a narrow right-of-way, the report added.