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Power lines largely miss Whiteside, skip Lee

Farmers objected to impact of proposed electricity project

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TAMPICO – A company said Wednesday that its proposed routes for electricity transmission lines would cut through the far southwestern corner of Whiteside County and miss Lee County entirely.

Farmers object to the project, arguing it would interfere with their center pivot irrigation systems.

Rock Island Clean Line, a subsidiary of Houston-based Clean Line Energy Partners, on Wednesday submitted preferred and alternate routes for the east-west transmission lines to the Illinois Commerce Commission, which regulates utilities.

Both lines would go 8 miles through the corner of Whiteside County, south of Erie. In Whiteside County, they merge. East of Whiteside County’s portion, the lines would go through northern Henry and Bureau counties.

The company decided to avoid most of Whiteside County because the route would have been longer, said Hans Detweiler, Clean Line’s Chicago-based director of development.

“When it gets longer, it picks up more obstacles as you go, with the number of homes within 500 and 1,000 feet,” he said. “It wasn’t as advantageous as other routes.”

The proposed longer route in Whiteside County would have approached the state’s Green River Conservation Area, Detweiler said. During the planning process, the state Department of Natural Resources raised concerns about the effects on endangered species, he said.

The company plans to send power from wind farms in Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska and South Dakota to population centers in Chicago and to the east. The lines will end near Morris, about 60 miles southwest of Chicago.

The company would have to provide compensation to farmers for the easement for the lines and towers. Farmers, though, said that wouldn’t be enough to cover their crop losses due to the lack of irrigation.

The towers, depending on their location, could interfere with the revolution of irrigation systems. In southern Whiteside County, the soil is more sandy, so irrigation is especially critical for crops. As such, Clean Line’s proposal sparked opposition. North of Tampico, signs opposing the project popped up all along state Route 172.

Bill Widolff, a Tampico-area farmer, said Wednesday he was “overjoyed” with the company’s decision. He had feared the towers would affect irrigation on his farm.

“I’m really pleased that they considered us and all the damage that could be done, which is much more than people realize if they’re not connected to the area,” he said.

Clean Line, for its part, promised to lessen the impact on irrigation systems. The company said it would align the towers with existing ones or put them in the corners of fields, where irrigators don’t reach.

In its application to the state, Clean Line is seeking public utility status for its lines, which would ease the way for the possible use of eminent domain – a seizure of private property to accommodate projects by the government and public utilities. Affected landowners are compensated for their loss.

According to the company, the lines will decrease the annual cost of wholesale electricity used to serve Illinois customers by an estimated $320 million in its first year of operation. It also said the project would create hundreds of jobs during construction.

Clean Line promised to use the services of vendors near the route such as hotels and materials suppliers.

“We have worked hard to take all necessary steps to ensure that the route for this project was determined the right way and that the project benefits local communities in Iowa and Illinois,” Michael Skelly, president of Clean Line Energy, said in a news release.

In July, the Whiteside County Board unanimously approved an agreement with Clean Line and a resolution in support of the $1.7 billion project. As part of the contract, the company pledged to give the county $7,000 per mile of line per year for 20 years. With 8 miles, that would amount to $56,000 a year.

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