Recently, northern Illinois has become the frontline in the battleground of Midwestern wind energy. But, for the residents of northern Illinois, the argument isn’t with wind energy production itself. Instead, the controversy lies with how to get that wind energy from point A to point B.
Rock Island Clean Line, a subsidiary of Clean Line Energy, LLC, is a proposed 500-mile overhead high-voltage direct current line that will transmit wind energy produced at point A, in Iowa and further west, to point B, a conversion station in Grundy County, Illinois.
While it’s easy to see the benefits of renewable energy projects, the issue with Rock Island Clean Line is more complicated. As Clean Line Energy continues to pursue their 500-mile transmission line, they also are seeking “public utility” status from the Illinois Commerce Commission, which would be the first step toward the company receiving eminent domain authority.
This power to use eminent domain is what concerns many farmers in Rock Island, Whiteside, Henry, Bureau, LaSalle and Grundy counties where the line is slated to be constructed. Obviously, if land owners in the area want to participate by granting an easement to Rock Island Clean Line, they have that option, but Illinois Farm Bureau sees problems if the company were to receive public utility status.
Along some areas of the route, Rock Island Clean Line plans to cut through open farmland diagonally, in the shortest possible distance, rather than following the Interstate 80 right-of-way, property lines or field lines. If granted public utility status, and the authority to use eminent domain, Rock Island Clean Line will have the ability to slice up swaths of farm ground without further consideration.
The willingness gobble up farmland simply because it’s the cheapest possible option is one of the reasons the Illinois Farm Bureau decided to file to intervene in Clean Line Energy’s case with the Illinois Commerce Commission.
While Illinois Farm Bureau supports wind energy generation as a component of the energy portfolio of the U.S., it’s important to remember that building the wind energy industry in the state must be done in a way that is mutually beneficial to both the consumers buying the energy, and the farmers and landowners who have to live with the structures on their land.
In this case, it may not be beneficial for either party. The Rock Island Clean Line is a merchant line, much like an interstate with no exits. In fact, even though it will pass through Illinois, it will not provide energy benefits to Illinois consumers along its route.
We believe it is in our members’ best interests to oppose Clean Line’s desire to be granted public utility status and, therefore, be granted eminent domain authority. Furthermore, we believe the company should be required to use mono-pole support structures, which have a smaller footprint, are easier to farm around and require less farmland. Finally, we oppose their proposal to cut diagonally across farm land. The transmission line should be built along the Interstate 80 right-of-way, rather than following a route that cuts across open farmland currently used to help produce the nation’s food.
Renewable fuels like biodiesel, ethanol and wind energy are necessary for our continued growth and energy independence. However, these must be considered with care and thought.
It does not make sense to carve out thousands of acres of farm land to serve the purpose of private investors. We know energy policies will continue to change and there will be more transmission lines like these in the future. However, as we construct these lines, we need to use common sense in planning and constructing them, so as not to disturb agriculture, one of the bright spots in an otherwise dismal economy. In the meantime, Illinois Farm Bureau urges the Illinois Commerce Commission to deny public utility status.