DES MOINES — A House panel moved legislation that would make it easier for landowners to fight a proposed cross-state power line project Tuesday.
The Rock Island Clean Line is a 500-mile overhead high-voltage line that would carry electricity produced by wind turbines in northwestern Iowa across 16 Iowa counties to Illinois and points eastward.
It’s a privately backed venture that may have to take land by eminent domain if the company and landowners can’t come to agreements on terms.
Dozens of people — many of them wearing bright yellow shirts with the phrase “Stop RICL” printed on the front — packed a House conference room Tuesday morning in support of the legislation.
“I’m absolutely not against wind energy. I live in northwest Iowa where a number of our friends and people to the west of us have wind turbines,” said Carolyn Sheridan, a farmer from Greenville and leader of the group Preservation of Rural Iowa Alliance, which was founded in response to the Clean Line project. “I am against this project. Rock Island intends to take wind energy from northwest Iowa for sale to people in Illinois, Pennsylvania and Massachusetts and other places.”
House File 2056 requires the Iowa Utilities Board to consider “the extent to which electricity transmitted over or by the proposed transmission line will be used or consumed” in Iowa when determining power line routes when 5 percent or more of the landowners affected protest.
“We can’t have more wind energy in Iowa without having an outlet,” said Beth Soholt, executive director of Wind on the Wires, an advocacy group opposed to the bill. She compared the transmission lines that deliver electricity to the highways farmers use to transport livestock.
“It’s the road to market,” she said.
Hans Detwelier, director of development for Clean Line, said the compensation package being offered landowners “is very robust” and, when all is taken into account, are generally “over 100 percent” of the (fair market value) of the land.
“I realize you are following the rules. You are going above and beyond. That is not in dispute,” said Rep. Bobby Kaufmann, R-Wilton, who drafted the bill.
Detwelier said the legislation is “contrary to Iowa’s tradition” of using its agriculture land to make money.
“Is Clean Line following the rules? Yes,” said Rep. Walt Rogers, R-Cedar Falls. “But is what is happening right? I don’t think so.”
The bill passed the subcommittee 2-1 with Rep. Dave Dawson, D-Sioux City, against it.
The House Democratic caucus sent out a news release shortly after the subcommittee saying Republicans were trying to “kill” wind energy in Iowa.
“The Clean Line project will bring $200 million to Sioux City and create or sustain hundreds of jobs,” Dawson said. “Rep. Kauffman’s bill will shut down this project as well as kill jobs and economic development.”
The bill needs to make it through a full committee this week if it is going to remain alive.
Judiciary Chairman Chip Baltimore, R-Boone, said the legislation would be discussed Wednesday in caucus and possibly assigned to a committee before the end of the week.
“This project means a lot of money and a lot of jobs to a lot of people,” Baltimore said. “But we do have to find a balance with private property rights.”