Iowa legislation could affect Rock Island Clean Line

As the 2014 session of the 85th Iowa General Assembly opened on Jan. 13, three Republican legislators from eastern Iowa said they would co-sponsor two bills to strengthen Iowans’ private property rights with measures that specifically target the proposed Rock Island Clean Line (RICL).

The first of the bills, to be co-sponsored by state Reps. Walt Rogers, Bobby Kaufmann and Pat Grassley, would limit the taking of private property through the use of eminent domain to projects that have a “public use” purpose. With projects like the RICL, the bill would require developers to provide a significant portion of the power transmitted to customers in Iowa.

“One of the complaints about the Rock Island project is that the power generated will be used for customers in Chicago and points east, rather than benefiting Iowa customers,” Rogers, who is running for U.S. Congress, said in a Jan. 10 statement on his campaign website.

Developers say the project will enable wind generators in western Iowa to deliver their output to markets to the east, thus providing substantial benefits to the citizens of the Hawkeye state.

“Just as Iowa leads the nation in producing and exporting … lots of agricultural commodities, the Rock Island project will help Iowa to lead the nation in producing and exporting wind energy as well,” Hans Detweiler, director of development for the RICL, told TransmissionHub Jan. 13. “We think that is a very strong and significant benefit to the state of Iowa.”

A second bill to be cosponsored by Rogers and Kaufmann would clarify that developers of private projects, including merchant transmission lines like RICL as well as other facilities like recreational lakes, could not use eminent domain but instead would have to purchase the land required through voluntary negotiations with landowners.

“The [RICL] project itself may have some merit, but the developers need to work with landowners to purchase easements voluntarily, rather than using government-backed force to simply take the land rights they want,” Rogers said.

Kaufmann sponsored a bill in the 2013 legislative session that contained a similar provision. The measure, House File 219, passed the state House of Representatives 93-6 and was sent to the state Senate. It was referred it to the Senate Judiciary committee from which it did not emerge.

The bills for the 2014 session were still being drafted as of mid-day Jan. 13, Kaufmann told TransmissionHub.

Inquiries seeking additional comments from the legislators involved were not returned by press time Jan. 13.

While the developer will not be able to provide specific comments until the bills are actually introduced, Detweiler said, “We believe that our project is very much in tune with Iowa values and benefits overall from very strong support.”

The Rock Island Clean Line is a $2bn, 500-mile overhead direct current transmission line that would deliver up to 3,500 MW of wind-generated electricity from northwest Iowa to communities in Illinois and other states to the east that have little wind power potential but a strong demand for clean energy.