Iowa Power line construction bill draws critics to House hearing

Source: Written by Jason Noble, Des Moines Register • Posted: Thursday, February 20, 2014

A panel of Iowa lawmakers advanced legislation Tuesday rewriting the approval process for construction of certain power lines in the state.

The measure is a direct response to vocal opposition to the proposed Rock Island Clean Line from landowners across northern Iowa.

The proposed 500-mile transmission line would deliver wind energy from northwest Iowa to markets in Illinois and points eastward. But it but might have to take land by eminent domain to secure the long, narrow strip that the power lines and poles would run through.

Dozens of opponents — many wearing bright yellow “Stop RICL” T-shirts — crowded into a House subcommittee hearing on Tuesday to assert their property rights and oppose the potential use of eminent domain in the 16 counties the line would pass through. Hundreds more have submitted objections to the Iowa Utilities Board.

For Grundy County farmer Eric Andersen, the loss of farmland to eminent domain was a bad deal at any price. “Your compensations are significant and some people think that’s a lot of money, but if you divide that number by forever, it’s not very much,” he said. “It pales in comparison to the loss in production for the most productive farmland in the world.”

Diverse and powerful interests are lined up behind the transmission line, however, including environmental groups, labor unions and the wind-energy industry.

The bill under consideration would create an alternate process for approving new transmission lines that deliver direct current power and exceed 200 miles. Under the bill, if 5 percent of landowners in the line’s path were subject to eminent domain, the project developer would be required to draw two alternative routes.

If those routes also drew objections, the Iowa Utilities Board would determine if the transmission line’s public value outweighed the private property concerns and potentially pick which of the three route options would be developed.

The bill must win committee approval by Friday to remain viable for passage. House Judiciary Chairman Chip Baltimore said he would bring the bill before his committee today or Thursday.