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‘We can’t have it both ways’

Published: Friday, Oct. 5, 2012 6:05 p.m. CDT

Rock Island Clean Line’s proposal to build a high-voltage transmission line from Iowa to Grundy County, Illinois, to connect the abundant wind resources of the Great Plains States with electricity consumers in Illinois, has recently generated a lot of discussion and media coverage. As Rock Island gets ready to file its application with the Illinois Commerce Commission (ICC) for a Certificate of Public Need, it’s important to consider the big energy picture. After all, nothing is more fundamental to a healthy economy than the availability of reliable energy. It is needed in every business. Its availability and cost profoundly affect every aspect of our economy — the private and public sectors, our residents and families and our overall quality of life. Even with the expected success of efficiency and conservation programs, Illinois’ demand for energy is expected to increase in the coming decades, and global energy demand is expected to increase 35 to 50 percent (according to the International Energy Association). Rock Island has indicated they will not ask for eminent domain in their pending application, and would do so later only if all reasonable voluntary efforts to secure easements have failed. At some point we may get to the question of whether the project should have the opportunity to use the power of eminent domain if needed as a last resort. We believe the answer to that question is “yes.” Companies like Rock Island Clean Line are forced to meet a high threshold to prove that their energy project serves the public need and benefit. That threshold should be high. But once the ICC agrees the standard has been met, it makes sense to provide the company with the ability to ensure the project cannot be stopped by any single or small group of landowners. There is the dangerous dynamic going on in Illinois and other states across the county in which everyone wants access to reliable energy, but no one wants it produced or transmitted or transported near them. We need to come to grips with the fact that we simply can’t have it both ways. Let’s hope the prevailing myth that we can meet our energy needs without building new infrastructure doesn’t stop us from taking advantage of this opportunity. Tom Wolf, executive director, Energy Council of the Illinois Chamber of Commerce Chicago

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