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OPINION: Grain Belt Clean Line Will Destroy Farmland

The first high voltage electric transmission line to dissect their crop and pasture land arrived in 1967, when Sunflower Electric paid Edwards County farmer Anthony J. Brake $1,413 for the privilege.

The second line – taller and with higher voltage – went up just two years ago, running parallel a few hundred feet from the first.

This time ITC Great Plains used eminent domain when many in the area, including Brake’s daughter and grandson, couldn’t reach agreement with the company on a right-of-way settlement for the 345-kilovolt line, erected to move wind-generated electricity from near Spearville onto the state’s electric grid.

Now, Theresa Brake and her nephew, Kevin Brake, fear a third line – the largest yet – will take more land from their limited farm, and they plan to resist it.

Nearly a dozen other farmers or landowners from the area joined the Brakes in a church meeting room to express their concern and frustration with the latest project – Clean Line Energy Partners’s “Grain Belt Express.”

Clean Line Energy, headquartered in Houston and formed by a pair of out-of-state billionaires, is proposing to build a 700-mile-long overhead high voltage electric line that will carry a projected 3,500 megawatts of wind-generated power from Kansas east to Illinois, Indiana and beyond.

The company is promoting the 600-kilovolt “direct current,” or DC line, as a boon to Kansas in that it will allow the state’s wind energy to be marketed outside of Kansas, resulting in expansion of western Kansas wind farms, though none of the power in the line will – or can – be used within the state.

The Kansas Corporation Commission declared the company a public utility in Kansas in late 2011 – opening it to use the right of eminent domain to acquire its necessary right-of-way.

The company held public meetings at several locations in January and February to outline proposed routes, notifying and inviting any landowners within a mile and half of the potential routes.

The company indicated it will finalize a route proposal this summer – likely in June or July, said Diana Rivera, project development manager, and then seek approval of it from the KCC. The company will be required to notify landowners with property in the final proposed path, to allow them to comment before the KCC.

“From what we can gather, they’re going to come through on a diagonal simply because it’s the easiest way to get across,” said Theresa Brake. “We battled ITC and didn’t win. They’re (Clean Line) a big powerful corporation and we feel we’re going to be run over again.”

The problems with the line to farmers are numerous, Kevin Brake explained, and adding more lines just compounds those issues.

For example, for much of their acreage the Brakes hire crop dusters to apply fungicide and herbicide. The lines bisecting the land prevent aerial spraying on a significant portion of the acreage.

While the existing lines run parallel to each other, the placement of the poles or towers are not, because they are different heights and distances apart. That prevents him from operating a boom sprayer under the lines as well.

He uses GPS on his farm equipment to control placement of the chemicals and prevent overlap. At $500-plus a gallon for some of the treatments, it’s easy to waste $20 or more per acre with even slight overlap, Brake said.

While allowed to farm under the lines, the lines prohibit the use of irrigation systems, Theresa Brake said. Construction of the line, done with heavy equipment, also severely compacts the ground, damaging its production potential.

Rivera confirmed no structures higher than 10 feet, including irrigation equipment, may go under the lines. But Clean Line is “working on ways to identify and minimize this impact,” Rivera said. “We’ll attempt to mitigate and compensate for any impact on land use and yields and so forth.”

That includes identifying where pivot irrigation now exists and potentially locating the new line along parcel boundaries or the outer edges of property, Rivera said.

“If we can’t minimize or avoid it, we’d compensate accordingly,” she said.

Several of the farmers questioned why new lines couldn’t be added to existing towers, but Rivera cited liability and national electric safety codes that prevent different electric companies from sharing towers. In fact, she said, the lines must be 100 to 200 feet apart, depending on the type of tower, which range from 100-foot monopoles to 200-foot lattice towers.

The group also suggested the company should build the lines in existing public right-of-way next to state highways. If required to cross farm fields, the lines should be placed running on the edge or through the center of the land – directly north and south or east and west – making it easier to farm than cutting across a diagonal.

Some people expecting to lease land for wind turbines along the route have been advised they may lose one or more of the wind towers, said Richard Hogan, who also farms north of Offerle.

“They (wind turbines) have to be back 500 feet from the transmission line,” he said. “I’m told the way they’ve got it laid out, what they’ve got planned, certain areas will lose out on turbines.”

It would also prevent oil production within a certain distance of the lines.

Leasing for wind or oil, with significant annual lease payments, is “a lot more lucrative” than the one-time lump sum payment for transmission right-of-way, Hogan noted.

“We have to furnish this highway for the electricity from wind farms and get nothing out of it after that first payment,” Hogan said. “That’s my biggest beef.”

“These people don’t have any idea what we’re putting up with out here,” he said. “I know it’s progress. I understand progress. But I don’t think it’s right they can take it for that one-time payment. It should be an annual payment or percent of income coming off the line. We should have a share in it. The property is approaching 2,500 to 3,000 acres out here. They’re taking quite a bit of value off our property.”

“Wind turbines and transmission are very different as far as land use and land impact, in terms of footprint,” Rivera said in attempting to explain the difference in payments between the two. “There are also commercial differences, in that wind is from independent power producers, versus a regulated utility for transmission. It’s a combination of all those things.”

Clean Line will offer landowners with structures that have to be removed an option to take a lump sum payment or annual payments, Rivera said, but otherwise right-of-way will be paid for with a lump sum.

Other complaints voiced by the group are that Clean Line will have to pay no taxes on the line for 10 years. While the company projects adding thousands of temporary jobs in the state during construction, it’s unlikely, because of the expertise required, that many of those employed will come from Kansas.

The company has estimated construction of the line will result in 5,000 temporary jobs in Kansas and 500 permanent jobs. That estimate, however, includes both construction of the power lines and development of new wind farms and came from projections on how much wind power could be built.

Theresa Brake has to drive under both lines going in and out of her property, her home about two-tenths of a mile from the structures. Taking a walk through her pasture, she can hear the lines buzz on some days. She’s concerned, living less than a quarter mile from the lines, about the health effects from the electromagnetic waves being put off.

“Everybody wants this wind, but gosh, it doesn’t affect people back east,” Kevin Brake said. “It doesn’t affect their property.”

“We’re just small farmers,” he said. “We don’t have 5,000 or 6,000 acres. We have less than 1,000 … Our family has been farming this ground for over 100 years. I’m 56 and I haven’t inherited the farm yet. But when I do, there won’t be any left. It’s ruining my farming heritage.” –AP

SEVER STOREY NOTE: The attorneys at Sever Storey have been tracking the Grain Belt Clean Line with great interest. Although this article is from Kansas, where Sever Storey currently does not have a practicing office, the Grain Belt’s plans expande far beyond that. As the eminent domain attorneys at Sever Storey have gleaned, the project will extend across the entire state of Illinois (south of the Ameren Three Rivers Line) and into Indiana. Furthermore, it is Sever Storey’s understanding that the Clean Line is currently trying to privately acquire land in Illinois but has NOT begun the process of getting eminent domain authority from the Illinois Commerce Commission–a bridge that must be crossed to actually exercise eminent domain power. This is very important; landowners need to understand that their land is not the prey of Clean Line yet. Please also note that Sever Storey has recently acquired an interesting legal strategy for the valuation of powerlines on farmland.

If you think you may be affected by the Grain Belt Clean Line or are interested in a free consultation, contact our eminent domain landowner attorneys at 1-888-318-3761 or visit us on the web at www.landownerattorneys.com.

Full story here.

 

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