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'Clean Line' Project Packs the House in Central City

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CENTRAL CITY, Iowa Linn County residents turned out in force Monday night to learn how their properties could be affected by a proposed transmission line that would bring wind energy from northwest Iowa to Illinois and other states east.

About 120 people asked questions and reviewed maps of the proposed corridor of the Rock Island Clean Line, which would likely go east to west across northern Linn County. Many registered of concern with project sponsor Clean Line Energy Partners about keeping the line away from sensitive natural areas, residences, and other features.

The study corridor proposed for the project was about five to ten miles wide. Maps allowed residents to determine if their property was in the corridor, but they had no way of knowing what route will proposed to the Iowa Utilities Board this fall when a study process is completed.

"It's an easement that bothers me, because that lasts a lifetime," said Robert Liebe, whose family farms around 2,000 acres west of Central City. They'll get it through," he said. "It's a matter of where they trespass on the public and how they treat them."

While it was clear that virtually nobody at the public open house at Central City High School wanted the proposed Rock Island Clean Line to cross their property, there appeared to be no protests or verbal altercations. Rock Island Clean Line provided free catered dinners and a large number of staffers to meet individually with residents and discuss the project. A geographic information system was used to carefully plot each point of concern registered by participants in the open house.

"They're really helping us out," said Cary Kottler, Rock Island Clean Line project development manager. He said the company wants all the information it can get to plot the best route.

The line will require easements 150 to 200 feet wide, but the actual "footprints" of the poles will use only about 1 percent of the easement.

Kottler said the Clean Line's staff will try to avoid residences, protected natural areas, densely wooded areas, schools, churches, parks and airports in routing the line.

The project will deliver up to 3,500 megawatts of wind energy from Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska and South Dakota to utilities in Illinois and other states east using direct current transmission.

Jack Streif, a farmer in the Whittier area, likes the direct current technology. He worked on direct current transmission lines in the 1970s in Minnesota before retiring from a career as a trainer in the utility industry.

"They don't have any line losses," he said, referring to the power losses in transmission lines from moving power over great distances.

Clean Line officials say the technology does indeed minimize line losses, but doesn't make it possible to add "on-ramps" or "off-ramps" for power without great expense. As a result, none of the power from the wind farms feeding the line will likely end up going to Iowa customers.

That was one of the concerns for Pam and Wally Taylor of Cedar Rapids, who were attending on behalf of the Sierra Club. They said federal regulations would also prevent Clean Line Energy Partners from restricting use of the line to renewable energy sources such as wind, so it could also conceivably carry power generated by fossil fuels.

"We're sending our clean energy to other states," Pam said.

Clean Line Energy Partners drew a little praise from the Taylors for educating the public about the need for transmission capacity to serve a renewable energy economy. The company says the line will make $7 billion in new investments in wind energy projects possible in Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska and South Dakota.

A total of 26 public open houses are being held on the project, including meetings held last week in Anamosa, Clarence and Eldridge.

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