One year ago a group of farmers and landowners formed the Preservation of Rural Iowa Alliance, opposing a Texas company's plan to build a high voltage power line across Iowa. The line, if built, would carry electricity generated by wind turbines in northwest Iowa to near the Chicago area, approximately a 500-mile stretch. None of the electricity would be used in Iowa.
Thousands of acres, mostly privately owned farmland, are in the path of the proposed line -- the Rock Island Clean Line. Clean Line Energy is a Houston-based company that would own the line and is putting money into the project. The website for RICL is www.rockislandcleanline.com.
The Preservation of Rural Iowa Alliance opposes the RICL electrical line for a number of reasons. One key concern is they believe RICL will use the power of eminent domain to force landowners to sell easements. The alliance has a website, www.iowastopricl.com, and the board president is Carolyn Sheridan of Greenville in northwest Iowa.
Opposition to high voltage power line is well-organized
"We had our weekly board meeting last week, as we mark our one-year anniversary," says Sheridan. "We are a team of dedicated volunteers, meeting nearly every week for a year now." The Preservation of Rural Iowa Alliance has grown in membership to where it now has around 300 contributing members. This represents a much larger number of families, landowners, businesses and even churches. The alliance has hired a law firm to represent the alliance and to consult for legal advice. The alliance serves to answer questions from landowners who are being offered easements by Rock Island Clean Line. Wallaces Farmer last week asked Sheridan several questions regarding the organization's priorities upon its one year anniversary.
1) What has this grass roots group learned this past year? Carolyn Sheridan says, "We have learned that one of the most important things our organization can do is to thoroughly understand this project and communicate with those involved. When our organization was first formed one year ago we did not know what to expect and how long this process would take. We now understand the franchise process RICL must complete is very complex which is very intimidating. Even filing a formal objection can seem complicated so establishing an email address, phone number and website has been instrumental in keeping people informed and delivering key information.
"We have also learned that the opposition to this project is widespread with similar concerns expressed across the state which let us to spend time researching a vast number of issues related to this project. We have held meetings with legal experts to provide advice and guidance to members on filing objections, landowner's rights and how to evaluate the easements being offered by RICL."
2) A key point Sheridan makes that she says is often misunderstood: "We are not against the responsible use of renewable energy. We are against the use of eminent domain to take private property for economic gain, the devaluation of property and potential long-term health impacts of this project. We advocate not only for landowners but all individuals, so informed decisions can be made.
"Over the next several months you can look for the Alliance to research key topics of concern, participation in the Iowa Utilities Board process while providing assistance and communicating in a variety of ways to the public and to landowners."
As a follow-up to our April cover story in Wallaces Farmer magazine, we asked Clean Line company officials to provide answers to common questions about the RICL project. Those answers ran in a Q & A article in the July 2014 magazine. Meanwhile, Wallaces Farmer continues to hear from farmers whose land lies in the path of the proposed power line. Here are some recent comments we've received:
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR
WHY WE WON'T SIGN RICL EASEMENT
You may have heard about the battle raging between Iowa landowners and the Rock Island Clean Line -- the proposed power line a Texas company wants to build across Iowa to deliver wind-generated electricity to the more populated areas east of Iowa. If you aren't on the proposed route, how does this fight affect you and why should you care?
RICL would like for others to erect wind turbines to sell electricity down the RICL transmission line. They want to see 2,000 new wind turbines built adding to the 200 being built now. Envision that: 2,200 more wind turbines in and around O'Brien County in northwest Iowa. Wind turbines and their red flashing lights that can be easily seen for 30 miles. Now imagine all the new power lines to hook up all these wind turbines to miles and miles of 15-story tall transmission line with towers also adorned with red lights. If you feel so inclined you could drive and see the field of 260 wind turbines near Storm Lake, Fonda or Lake Park, all of which can be seen for many miles away.
You may think this is just the price we must pay to cut carbon emissions. That's an understandable notion. After all, we have the wind and all this land where "nobody" lives. I don't know about you but I don't feel like "nobody."
Issue of eminent domain: However, there is a place where absolutely no one lives; no one is trying to make a living that has far better wind power than here and is closer to the East coast. It is the Great Lakes. Yes, wind turbines have been proposed but the people block them citing property value loss. To date not one wind turbine has been built in the Great Lakes.
It is presumptuous of businesses like RICL to assume they will get the same right of eminent domain that communities have used as a last resort to make sure that everyone has access to utilities.
The East coast does not need our wind power. Their abundance of electricity makes their electric rates even lower than ours (see www.energy.gov.) There is only a desire to sell power. That is commerce. If the world needs food and we grow corn we must pay to get that corn to market. If you want to sell electricity you must pay RICL to get it to market for you. RICL needs land to build their power lines to get that electricity to market. That means RICL needs land and they don't own any. They need to buy and negotiate land rights for their line. If they can't afford it maybe they shouldn't do it. That's what happens on our farm. If we can't afford it, we don't do it.
This isn't the same thing as building highways: People have said the power lines are like the highways. Our highways are not privately owned or built by investors in order to make a profit. Everyone can use them, they are public.
If the compensation RICL is offering were "fair" then they would have more than 10% of their easements signed. Owners of wind turbines are paid yearly. The people that have to live for the rest of their lives with 15-story transmission lines get a one-time check that the government will take a nice chunk out of. Will the wind farms offer to pay more money to set up their road to market? Most businesses have a large up-front expense. What makes wind power any different?
Iowa is already a leader in wind power. Let us stay with moderation and protect all aspects of our environment. The Preservation of Rural Iowa Alliance is working hard to stop RICL and protect the rights of landowners. The Alliance is against the use of eminent domain to take private property for economic gain. We encourage people not to sign RICL's voluntary easements and to file a formal objection with the Iowa Utilities Board. For further information contact PRIA at www.iowastopricl.com or 712-262-5229. Thank you. — Janna and Paul Swanson, Ayrshire, Iowa
DO WE REALLY NEED TO EXPORT WIND ENERGY?
The article "RICL officials answer questions" in July 2014 Wallaces Farmer is biased. Why should Iowa ship our energy to other states, when other states are fully capable of generating their own? The big electricity transmission line a Texas company wants to build across Iowa, along with more wind farms it wants to see built, are being promoted for creating jobs. How many of those jobs would be for Iowans? Most contractors are out of state. What about birds we're killing with wind turbines? And farm ground we would lose to build more wind turbines and power lines?
Now, there's an oil pipeline also being proposed to be built that would cut diagonally across Iowa to transport crude oil from the Dakotas to refineries in Texas and elsewhere. Can't the oil industry build its own refinery in the Dakotas? Greed and making money is what this is all about. –Lonnie Stein, What Cheer, Iowa
THERE ARE MANY UNANSWERED QUESTIONS
Regarding the article "RICL officials answer questions" on page 21 of July Wallaces Farmer, we have the following comments:
Rock Island Clean Line says farmers can continue to farm underneath the transmission line. Yet, RICL neglected to say that according to their easement no one can cross the easement when it is under construction or during maintenance and repair. Timing is important in farming. Keep in mind RICL has a five-year window in which to complete construction. Potentially, the easement on your property would not be accessible for farming for those five years.
Additionally, placement of the line may block a farmer from other acres that would have to remain out of production. What about application of crop care such as herbicide and pesticide treatments? Timing is everything. Then, too, construction doesn't just happen only on "nice" days. –Tonna Parsons, Webb, Iowa
I can see why RICL is avoiding the Iowa Department of Natural Resources ground in offering the proposed route for its power line. The DNR says you can only spread manure so thick. I should have put on my 5-buckle boots before reading this article, because RICL is spreading it on way too thick. RICL says they can take the power to Chicago on their $2 billion train, then someone can bring it back in a straight truck and save tens of millions of dollars. If wind energy is this cheap, why is Iowa only using 25%? –Joel Parsons, Webb, Iowa
OTHER REASONS WE OPPOSE THIS PROJECT
We oppose construction of Rock Island Clean Line. We are not against the positive aspects of renewable energy, but we are against the use of eminent domain being used by a private company for economic gain. We also worry about possible health ramifications for generations to come. And we have problems with the easements, the devaluation of our land and livelihood. What RICL considers to be a fair and generous offer is a small amount when you consider the easement will be forever. –Board members of Preservation of Rural Iowa Alliance