Let’s slow down on RICL

Rock Island Clean Line is working on securing easements across 375 miles of Iowa, looking to string a direct current electric transmission line that will flow electricity generated from a yet-to-built wind farm consisting of 2,000 turbines in Iowa, Minnesota, South Dakota and Nebraska.

The electricity generated will flow to East Coast markets.

RICL argues the benefits to Iowa include creating a large number of jobs for installing the line, new revenue for Iowa companies as RICL turns to them to supply its needs, annual revenue for the 16 county governments that will have the line strung across them and annual hefty payments to landowners that will get the future turbines.

Sounds like a sweet deal.

But wait, what about the farmers who will have to accept the transmission line? Here’s where the sweetness turns sour to their taste.

Our sister publication, Farm News, has been interviewing farmers in the path of this line, and just a few were willing to go on the record.

This project is designed to be strung across prime Iowa farmland, with perpetual easements almost 200 feet wide.

Landowners can opt for a lump sum payment per utility pole that is sunk deep into their fields, or, according to RICL, can opt for annual payments that increase by 2 percent each year for as long as the structures stand.

In either case, the compensation is not much, farmers told us, especially when factoring in soil compaction, extra cost of farming around these structures, limited use of those fields, zero access during construction, and, if RICL sells the line or goes out of business, the next owners will have access into these fields to work on the line or structures.

Farm News hasn’t found a farmer yet who wants the transmission line. If they have to have anything they’d prefer a wind turbine, perceiving it’s better compensation.

RICL’s line cuts west-to-east across prime farm land dissecting quarter sections across the counties of O’Brien, Clay, Palo Alto, Kossuth and Cerro Gordo rather than follow existing state easements or even fence rows. Landowners are heart-broken.

One farmer said this threatens his seed corn contract that constitutes 35 percent of his annual income.

Whether you want to think in terms of this line carrying 3,500 megawatts, or 3.5 million kilowatts, or 3.5 billion watts, it’s still a lot that Iowa won’t be able to use.

If we suppose that the four states that could potentially build the 2,000 wind turbines will continue to grow their industries, is it possible they’ll need those 2,000 turbines for themselves some day?

The Messenger urges the Iowa Utilities Board to look closely at this issue before granting an unprecedented utility franchise to RICL, a private entity. If it grants a franchise, we hope the IUB will nix the proposed route and require the line to follow a more sensible route, like fence rows, where the disruption of farming will be less.

Farm News is a member of the Iowa Wind Energy Association. Like the Preservation of Rural Iowa Alliance, which is vigorously opposing the route of this line, Farm News and The Messenger aren’t against wind energy in general.

If granted, this would be the first major transmission line built in Iowa by a private company that is not part of the Iowa electric grid.

Those who have not yet signed a voluntary easement for the project should slow down and consider the long-term ramifications of a perpetual easement across their field.

Iowa State University recommended getting legal counsel before signing to fully understand the abandonment, damage and negligence clauses, ingress and egress, and landowners’ access to other areas of the property.

There’s a lot more here for landowners to consider than a fist full of dollars, and they know it.

Farmers just hope economic development groups, county governments, the IUB and other state leaders understand it.