Opinion: What Others Are Saying: Cross-country power line needed for Iowa wind energy

Source: From Quad-City Times, reprinted in the Des Moines Register • Posted: Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Iowa’s future as a wind power leader relies on more utility customers than the state can provide. The state ranks third nationally in wind energy production, with 3,198 turbines generating 25 percent of the state’s energy, as well as some reliable income for landowners who negotiated their place on the state’s alternative power grid.

The next big step requires extending the power grid, and that’s the goal of the Rock Island Clean Line, a cross-country transmission line to take Iowa’s wind power eastward to more customers. Wind energy cannot be stored. So to get the maximum value of the state’s existing turbine network, it makes sense to connect to more customers.

That connection, just like the countless transmission lines and thousands of turbines before it, will require extensive negotiations with landowners willing to profit on this expansion. Those are the people essential to the public hearing process underway along the proposed path of the transmission line. The Iowa Utilities Board is in the process of hosting nine forums in counties touched by the Rock Island Clean Line. The meetings culminate Dec. 4 and 5.The Iowa Utilities Board meets at 3 p.m. Dec. 4 at the Cedar County Fairgrounds in Tipton, and 9 a.m. Dec. 5 at the Clarion Hotel in Davenport.

If these hearings are like the others, expect serious, passionate discussion. Rock Island Clean Line is trying to chart a half-mile-wide corridor to accommodate a 200-foot-wide series of towers. Under regulation of the Iowa Utilities Board, the firm is negotiating with individual landowners. The process is essential to rule out any use of eminent domain to seize land for the project, a tactic we adamantly oppose.

So we encourage supporters, detractors and those uncertain to study this issue and attend the forums. We believe the feedback is essential to negotiating the best deal for the partner landowners, Iowa utility rate payers and Iowa’s business community, all of whom benefit from diverse energy sources.

But we’re not among those against every effort to export Iowa wind energy. Here’s why:

The state has extensive experience negotiating transmission line and turbine right of way with thousands of landowners. Rock Island Clean Line isn’t proposing something new. It’s just a 21st century application of time-tested utility development.

Fortifying Iowa’s energy diversity is in everyone’s best interest, even as that power is sold out-of-state. Building excess capacity accommodates growth and helps further reduce Iowa’s dependence on fossil fuels.

Utilities further east will continue to develop diverse power sources. So it’s quite likely they’ll be buying alternative power from somewhere. Count us among those eager to see Iowa continue to elevate its wind energy dominance, and all the manufacturing, engineering and logistics that go with it.

That’s why these forums need maximum input from landowners and customers, not just those adamantly opposed to energy diversification. Iowa already enjoys an outsized role in American wind energy development, manufacturing and engineering. Consider these hearings an opportunity to conscientiously grow this important Iowa business with informed landowners who choose to be part of the state’s nation-leading expansion of wind power.