DECATUR – The proposed Grain Belt Express power line project is still on the winning track, but its opponents refuse to be shunted out of the way.
Several landowners joined with the Illinois Farm Bureau to file a request asking state regulators to rehear their November decision to approve Illinois' portion of the $2 billion transmission line. That request was rejected in December by those same regulators, the Illinois Commerce Commission, along with multiple other rehearing requests filed by other objectors.
The loud and persistent opponents are far from conceding defeat, however. They say the 780-mile line, 200 miles of which are set to pass over Pike, Scott, Greene, Macoupin, Montgomery, Christian, Shelby Cumberland and Clark counties in Illinois, is being rammed through over widespread objections.
The opponents say the line was approved on an expedited process normally reserved for utilities, and one that should not have been available to Grain Belt's developers, Texas-based Clean Line Energy Partners.
Opponents also claim the 4,000-megawatt line will inconvenience farmers and landowners for the sake of a project that is too expensive anyway. Several opponents say they are now ready to take legal action through a court appeal; the Illinois Farm Bureau could not be reached for comment.
But Pike County Farm Bureau Executive Director Blake Roderick has been quoted as saying he thinks the issue will end up “in the courts under appeal.”
Other objectors have been more blunt in their assessments: “What we have learned through this process at the ICC is that the opposition (Clean Line) hopes the other will be tired of legal fees and quit; this will not happen,” wrote an opponent identified as “BG Farms” on the ICC web site. “Well, we are not done in Ilinois! The appeal process will be our next step.”
The Grain Belt Express line is designed to funnel wind-generated power from breezy western Kansas across three adjoining states to plug into the national power grid. Construction is due to start in 2017 and, in addition to Illinois, it's also won approval from Kansas and Indiana state regulators. But Missouri power officials rejected the project in July, much to the delight of Illinois objectors who are backing their stand.
“Right now, I am ashamed to call Illinois home,” said one objector, Sheryl Slightom, writing on the ICC website. “We, the property owners, stand with Missouri and will continue the fight.”
But the Grain Belt line, now gearing up for a renewed effort to get approval in Missouri, also has plenty of friends and plenty of backers over the border in Illinois. Supporters range from unions to environmentalists: one group welcoming the construction jobs the line would bring and the other happy about the prospect of pollution-free green energy.
Clean Energy has said its new line will deliver a $700 million investment in Illinois and generate 1,500 jobs; it also says wind energy flowing through the wires will slash wholesale energy prices in Illinois by $750 million in its first five years of operation.
One supporter, Lynnley Wilson, wrote this comment on the ICC website: “This country must stay on target with new, clean, low-cost energy, and these projects provide that and a much-needed boost to the local economy ... I support transmission projects that are being developed to bring low-cost wind energy to Illinois.”