On Tuesday, April 5, legislation aimed at preventing construction of the proposed Rock Island Clean Line high voltage powerline across Iowa was approved by the Iowa House of Representatives. The bill now moves to the Iowa Senate.
The proposed 500 mile-long electric line would cut across 16 counties in Iowa, carrying wind-generated electricity from northwest Iowa and delivering it into Illinois. When first announced in 2013, the project was met with opposition from landowners as well as lawmakers, including Representative Bobby Kaufmann, R-Wilton. Kaufmann says he is concerned about the company’s access to eminent domain authority, which can be used to force the sale of private property. He opposes the project for that reason.
Would have to get 75% of landowners to sign voluntary easement
Legislation now being considered in the Iowa Legislature would require privately owned energy lines, such as the RICL project proposed by Clean Line Energy Partners, to get 75% of the landowners to sign voluntary easements before the Iowa Utilities Board could approve the project. Projects that sit dormant for more than three years before that threshold is reached would expire.
Clean Line Energy Partners is headquartered in Houston, Texas. The company had sought a temporary pause for its project in November 2015—about 2.5 years into the project. At the three-year point, the plan would expire, if this new legislation becomes law. That’s another reason a number of lawmakers support the bill. “I think it’s unfair to allow a project to get a permanent pause if you don’t know if you’re ever going to have your land taken from you or not,” says Kaufmann.
The bill was met with some opposition in the Iowa House, as several lawmakers said it is unfair to issue new rules to companies that are already in the middle of a project. Representative Mary Wolfe, D-Clinton, says she shares the concerns about eminent domain being used too much, but she also says the bill should focus on future projects rather than target the Clean Line project. “To make the bill retroactive to projects that were actually put into effect in past years and which may already be started or are getting started, is not responsible,” says Wolfe.
Preservation of Rural Iowa Alliance assists landowners and others
The Preservation of Rural Iowa Alliance was formed when the RICL powerline was announced several years ago. The Alliance assists landowners, tenants, families, businesses and community members in finding more information on how to stop unnecessary high voltage transmission lines in Iowa.
Rock Island Clean Line is currently in the process of moving forward with a 500 mile project which includes 375 miles of rural land in Iowa and 125 miles in Illinois. The Alliance is opposed to the use of eminent domain authority by RICL to gain land for the proposed line.
Carolyn Sheridan, a farmer from Greenville in northwest Iowa, is president of the board of directors of the Alliance. She is urging Iowans to take time now to contact legislators across the state to get them to support the proposed legislation. “Even if it is just a brief email, letter or phone call, please take a few moments of your valuable time to contact legislators and tell them what you think about the use of eminent domain by a private company to gain access to the land,” says Sheridan. “This personal contact will be instrumental in providing representatives and senators the feedback they need to support this important bill as it is being considered by the Iowa Senate.”
Current status: voluntary easements remain at less than 15%
There are 176 voluntary easements registered at county court houses in all 16 counties where this proposed powerline is supposed to run through, says Sheridan. In order to set a date for a public hearing all franchise petitions in all 16 counties across the state must be deemed "in order." This means each parcel of land in the path of this pipeline in each county must have either a voluntary easement or an Exhibit E must be presented to the Iowa Utilities Board (IUB).
RICL (Clean Line Energy Company) officially requested the IUB issue an order to suspend all work on the petitions for franchise nearly one year ago. No further work can be done by IUB at this time, meaning the entire process is at a standstill. Landowners at the western end of the proposed transmission line were notified of this project and held their information meeting in July 2013. Thus, it has now been nearly three years since the first landowners were informed of RICL’s plan to erect a high voltage transmission line on their property, with the threat of eminent domain to take private property.
Contact your state representatives and senators now
The legislation, HF 2448, passed the House April 5. Go to the Iowa Legislature website at www.legis.iowa.gov to read and follow the bill. Follow-up action on this legislation will now take place in the Iowa Senate. Sheridan explains the following important points:
* The Preservation of Rural Iowa Alliance worked with the Iowa House Oversight Committee to draft language to address high-voltage direct current power lines being erected across the state of Iowa by private companies for purely economic development reasons.
* Iowa must develop a statutory framework to balance private landowner rights against the economic development interests of private companies wanting to build electrical lines for purely economic gain. In particular these companies that are building merchant lines shouldn’t be afforded the right of eminent domain to the same extent as a utility.
* The legislation that passed the Iowa House and will be considered in the Senate would set up a statutory framework to create such a balance between private companies building merchant lines and Iowa private landowners. The legislation, HF 2448, does not forbid a company from requesting to use the power of eminent domain to construct a merchant line but it does put limitations on the extent of the proposed line’s land that may be condemned. In particular, the bill requires the petitioner to have acquired at least 75% of the route voluntarily before the IUB may even consider their petition.
* Iowans should not have to live with a potential condemnation and/or construction of huge high-voltage lines on their property for an indefinite amount of time. The bill addresses the length of time a petitioner can keep their filing open with the IUB. The bill accomplishes this by requiring the utilities board to grant a franchise within two years of the first county informational meeting held by the petitioner.
* The bill also changes the definition of “public” that the IUB must apply when determining public interest or benefit. When reviewing a petition for construction of a merchant line, the bill would require that the board must only consider consumers located in Iowa as compared to consumers both inside and outside of Iowa.
* The Alliance urges all impacted landowners, family and community members to ask for the legislator's support of the legislation so there is sufficient guidance to the IUB when they are faced with a petition to construct a merchant line.
Sheridan is asking Iowans to call, email or write their legislator and other legislators from other areas of Iowa, too. “Ask them to support legislation that will help protect Iowa landowners,” she says. “Iowans need to contact their state senators but also should continue to contact their state representatives, as the representatives are able to influence the senators. But definitely, the Iowa Senate is our focus now, as this legislation is now in the senate’s hands.”
What to include in your communication with legislators
“We do not provide ‘canned letters or messages’ since we are told by legislators that personal letters or emails sent by individual citizens of Iowa make a bigger impact,” says Sheridan. Here are her suggestions for your letter/email/phone call:
* Tell your personal story, how does this issue impact you?
* Discuss how long have you known about this project without any idea of when a decision will be made.
* Discuss your concerns about private property rights.
* Read the points listed above and explain why the bill is important to you.
Contact Representatives: Ask them to please support HF 2448. Refer to specific things from your personal situation or the bullet points above.
Contact Senators: You can say, "The Iowa House will be sending you a Clean Line Bill. When it comes to you in the Iowa Senate, please support the bill."
Check the legislature calendar at the Iowa Legislature website to see which date this bill is placed on the calendar. The calendar is very fluid based on debates related to many items on a daily calendar.
To call your legislator during session: Representatives: 515-281-3221; Senators: 515-281-3371. Ask to be transferred to their desk.
To write your legislator during session: (Legislator name), 1007 East Grand Ave., Des Moines, Iowa 50319
To email your legislator, call the phone numbers above or visit the Iowa Legislative website www.legis.iowa.gov;
* Representatives: www.legis.iowa.gov/legislators/house
* Senators: www.legis.iowa.gov/legislators/senate
* Home addresses and phone numbers are available online. Or visit the Alliance’s website at http://www.iowastopricl.com Call to Action/Legislation Tab.
Visit the Alliance website for updated information at www.iowastopricl.com.