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Public’s Input Received During Open House For DC Transmission Line

By Staff | Jun 7, 2011

It is no secret that wind energy is potentially one of the greatest resources available to our country in terms of the generation of electrical power. Yet, one of the biggest drawbacks to the growth of wind energy in our area at this point in time is the lack of a way to get the energy from wind turbines to the consumers. Clean Line Energy Partners has a plan to address that very issue and brought that plan to area residents Thursday evening in an Open House at the Wild Rose Casino and Resort.

The Open House began at 5 p.m. in the ballroom of the Wild Rose and it didn’t take long for area residents to begin filing in to learn more about the project. Within 15 minutes, nearly 75 area residents had registered at the doors and were looking over maps and diagrams of information on the proposed project.

The Rock Island Clean Line is a proposal to construct and operate a roughly 500-mile long, overhead electrical transmission line across Iowa to terminate in Illinois. The project would represent a potential investment of $1.7 billion to construct the high-voltage Direct Current transmission line, but it also has the potential to influence the construction of up to $7 billion in new wind farm construction in the region, along with the creation of up to 500 jobs, not to mention up to 5,000 construction jobs.

“Clean Line Energy Partners was created to meet a need to bring power from where it is readily available to where it is needed in the most efficient way,” explained Hans Detweiler, Director of Development for Clean Line. “Northwest Iowa is on the east end of wind resources in the nation, so it’s the easiest point to acquire the wind power. By building the Rock Island Clean Line, it would allow us to bring that power to where it is needed.”

One might ask why existing transmission lines can’t be used to do the same thing. The answer is capacity.

“The current power transmission grid is operating at capacity,” Detweiler said. “That’s why there isn’t a lot of new wind farm construction underway right now there isn’t any capacity to get the power from the turbines to the consumers.”

According to Detweiler, the Rock Island Clean Line was so named because originally, Clean Line obtained an option to utilize abandoned right-of-way of the defunct Rock Island Railroad, in the hopes of using those right-of-ways as the route for transmission lines. But, after making studies of the routes, it was decided that a more direct route would be most economical and efficient to construct and operate, as well as having less of an impact on communities and landowners.

“We’ve maintained all along in our studies that we didn’t want to bring these transmission lines through towns or disturb sensitive areas,” Detweiler said. “So, that’s why we’re holding open house meetings like this, showing our project to people, and asking them for their suggestions and comments as far as the best places to run a transmission line. Local people know their area and we value their input.”

At the open house, area residents were asked to view maps showing the proposed transmission line study corridors, each of which are three to 10 miles wide, Several such corridors are being considered to determine the best route for the line. Considerations such as possible impacts to agricultural land, state and federal land, recreational areas, water resources, cultural resources, airports, schools, churches and sensitive habitats are being considered, along with input from individual communities, governmental entities, conservation groups, investors, engineers and the general public will go into the decision-making process.

When a final route is determined, the actual corridor will be narrowed to a right-of-way easement of 150 to 200 feet in width, with landowners retaining full property ownership and rights to use the land for farming or other purposes.

A major difference of the Rock Island Clean Line is the fact that it is a Direct Current transmission line, as opposed to the current AC, or alternating current transmission lines. The difference in the two types of lines is length of transmission AC lines are considered to be for shorter distance transmission, while DC lines can transmit the power longer distances with greater efficiency. And, in terms of being environmentally friendly, stray voltage issues don’t occur with DC lines like can happen with AC lines. Detweiler noted that a DC transmission line requires a physical footprint a third of that of a normal AC transmission line.

According to Detweiler, sites in O’Brien and Cherokee counties are being considered for a 65-acre, $250 million converter station that will convert the alternating current from wind turbine generators into direct current to be transported to a similar station in northern Illinois.

“Our studies have shown that most of the power to be transmitted on a DC line such as the Rock Island would come from wind sources located within 50 to 100 miles of a converter station, and that puts Palo Alto County and this area right in the heart of the area,” Detweiler noted.

The economics of moving wind energy are key to the development of the Rock Island Clean Line, when it pencils out that the transmission line will cost about $2 million per mile. “Using that as a guide, the majority of the power on the line will come from this area of the state, just because of the costs to convert AC power into DC and then back,” Detweiler said. “But, this project will undoubtedly be a major economic boost for Northwest Iowa. Building this line would create around 5,000 construction jobs over a two or three year period, and then, you also have property taxes of $7,000 per mile, every year, coming back to each county. And, that doesn’t even take into account the possible development and construction of additional wind farms that could move forward once an outlet for their power is available to them.”

The proposed DC transmission line will be able to deliver 3,500 megawatts of wind energy from the area to points east, an amount that is equal to what is currently generated by existing wind turbines in Iowa. Those 3,500 megawatts is enough electricity to provide the energy needs for almost 1.5 million households each year.

“This is a project that Iowa is excited about,” Detweiler said. “We have wind firms here in the state like Trinity, who manufacture turbine blades in Newton and Axion in West Branch and Clipper in Cedar Rapids who are all supporting projects like this for the potential it brings to the wind industry.”

The informational open house meetings such as Thursday’s are the second step in the process.

“Once we’ve completed our public outreach efforts, we go before the Iowa Utilities Board to seek approval of our plans,” Detweiler said. “Once we would receive approval, then we would begin site planning and permitting and land acquisition efforts. In 2013, we would anticipate signing agreements with customers for the delivery of the power and be finalizing the land acquisition for the actual right-of-way to build the line. In 2014 is when we would actually anticipate the construction to begin.”

The Rock Island Clean Line is just one of four such projects being proposed by Clean Line. Similar projects are being proposed for the Grain Belt Express from Kansas into eastern Missouri; the Plains and Eastern Line from Oklahoma into Arkansas and Tennessee and the Centennial West Line from New Mexico into Arizona and California.

“Really what we want to do is deliver clean energy to the communities and people who need it,” Detweiler said. “We’re hoping to create the new farm-to-market road for the 21st Century.”