Rock Island Clean Line withdrew its petition Thursday seeking permission from the Iowa Utilities Board to build an electric transmission line across Iowa — a move that the project's opponents hailed as a victory for state landowners.
The $2 billion, 500-mile overhead transmission line would have funneled wind energy across 16 counties from northwest Iowa into Illinois and states further east.
But it has garnered significant opposition from landowners and lawmakers who are worried that the company would use eminent domain to take private property.
"This to me is the biggest victory for landowners, when it comes to eminent domain, in the history of the state of Iowa," state Rep. Bobby Kaufmann, R-Wilton, said. "And I’m not trying to be theatrical. I mean that."
Kaufmann has fought the use of eminent domain for the Rock Island project, as well as others, calling it his "number one legislative priority" for the last three years. He said there are about 130 farmers in his district whose land could be at risk if the project were to move forward.
But to advance, the project needs regulatory approval in Iowa and Illinois. In Illinois, the Supreme Court is reviewing whether Rock Island can proceed there.
According to the notice filed with the Iowa Utilities Board, Rock Island doesn't expect the decision to be issued until at least May 2017. Pending that outcome, Rock Island said it would withdraw its petition in Iowa.
"Clean Line will make a determination concerning a new filing with the board following resolution of the Illinois Supreme Court appeal," the filing said.
In a statement, Clean Line Energy said it continues to move ahead on its other transmission projects, including the Plains & Eastern Clean Line connecting "clean energy resources" in the Oklahoma panhandle to states throughout the Southeast.
“Projects backed by private investment like the Rock Island Clean Line address our country’s continued demand for electric infrastructure,” said Clean Line Energy Vice President Hans Detweiler said in the statement. “The Rock Island Clean Line will bring about a $7 billion investment in new wind farms and save Illinois consumers hundreds of millions of dollars in energy costs.”
The issue pits Iowa's rapidly expanding wind energy industry against the property rights of its farmers and landowners. When Rock Island initially submitted its petition to the Utilities Board, the company said in a statement the project would drive demand for wind turbine components that are manufactured in Iowa and would "generate millions of dollars in state and local tax revenues."
Sabre Industries, which makes large transmission towers in Sioux City, is one company that was hoping to see new business as a result of the Rock Island project. Sabre’s Iowa plant employs about 450 people in fabrication, welding, shipping and administration positions.
Kaufmann said he understands the need for economic growth, but he's hopeful that another company will strike a better balance with landowners in the state.
"I think there’s a great opportunity for a wind transfer company to come in and say, 'Hey, we respect property rights. We want to ship energy, but we’ll work with landowners to do it,'" he said. "And I think you’ll find people very receptive to that notion."