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Toll road for wind energy considered

MANLIUS — The merits of transporting wind-produced electricity through Bureau County was the topic of discussion at an informational open house Thursday in Manlius.

About 45 people attended the open house at the Bureau Valley High School to learn about a proposed $1.7 billion Rock Island Clean Line Energy transmission line project, which would carry electricity produced from wind farms in South Dakota, Nebraska, Minnesota and Iowa though Illinois and eastward. The overhead transmission line would be about 550 miles long and carry up to 3,500 megawatts of electric power.

At this time, Clean Line Energy Partners, based in Houston, Texas, is looking at two possible routes for its Midwest transmission line. One route would go from northwestern Iowa through northern Bureau and Henry counties and eastward. The other route would travel from northwestern Iowa through Whiteside and Lee counties and eastward.

On Thursday, Hans Detweiler, director of development for Clean Line Energy Partners, said the company is hosting 26 community meetings in Iowa and Illinois to introduce people to the company, the project and the purpose of the project. The open houses will give people the opportunity to ask questions and to look at high resolution maps to help identify things, such as unmarked cemeteries or camps, which should be avoided, he said.

There are certain criteria the company is following when it comes to determine a final route, Detweiler said.

“In a nut shell, we’re looking for a relatively straight line because we will impact fewer people than if you are going up and down with the route,” he said. “We are looking for a line that is the greatest distance from the greatest number of homes. We’re looking for a route that avoids and minimizes as many impacts on communities or conservation areas as we can. We want to build a toll road for wind energy.”

Looking at a time line for the project, Detweiler said the rest of the calendar year will be spent in public meetings to help determine the best route for the transmission line. The company hopes to be able to file a preferred option with the Illinois Commerce Commission (ICC) by early next year. The ICC will then review the plan, a process which could take more than a year. After approval, Clean Line Energy Partners will seek financing for construction. The actual construction of the transmission line could begin in 2014 or 2015 and is expected to take two to three years, Detweiler said.

According to the company’s informational materials, the $1.7 billion project would create more than 5,000 new construction jobs, 500 operations jobs and millions of dollars per year in property tax revenue.

On Thursday, Detweiler said those added jobs and benefits could be realized, in part, by area concrete and gravel companies, building tradesmen and local laborers. However, it is unlikely there would be any permanent jobs created in Bureau County once the line was constructed, he said.

During the open house, Detweiler was also asked about irrigation systems which exist now or could be built in the future along the proposed corridor. In response, Detweiler said that’s the type of structure and situation which the company needs to know about when trying to determine the best route for the transmission line.

Detweiler was also asked about a decommissioning plan and how far the company would be required to go down to remove any concrete for transmission line poles. In response, he said the company would be required in writing to meet all decommissioning requirements as negotiated.

Concerning the economic impact for landowners, including any potential decline of property value, Detweiler said the Clean Energy doesn’t buy land but seeks to acquire easements.

“Our feeling is that we want to get absolutely as much of that land as we can through voluntary agreements, and that means we will have to make a very attractive offer,” Detweiler said.

Ultimately if the project is approved by the Illinois Commerce Commission, the company would have eminent domain, but the hope is to absolutely minimize the use of that, Detweiler said. There are rare instances, such as absentee landowners or unsettled estates in probate, where eminent domain could be used if needed, he said.

Among those attending the open house from Princeton was Alvin Longman. Now retired, Longman owns farmland in nearby Henry County.

Longman said he came to the open house because he had questions about the project, and those questions were answered. Even though his farm is not close to the area under consideration, Longman said he would support the project even if it did directly affect his land. Developing wind energy and getting away from dependence on foreign fuel is important for the country, he said.

Comment on this story at www.bcrnews.com.

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