DECATUR – The development of the proposed $2 billion Grain Belt Express electricity transmission line is running right on schedule.
The project's builders, Texas-based Clean Line Energy Partners, finished up a third round of public information meetings this week. Within the next few months the company will file a proposed main and alternate route for the 750 mile overhead line with the Illlinois Commerce Commission, the state regulators who must approve it.
The ICC will then have roughly six to eight months to rule on the project and, if it gets the green light, construction work is due to be under way by 2017.
The Grain Belt Express is part of a system that will source yet-to-be built wind farms in breezy Kansas and send that power across Illinois to tap into existing power grid infrastructure in Sullivan, Ind. The Central Illinois portion of the line will see it march through Pike, Scott, Greene, Macoupin, Montgomery, Christian, Shelby, Cumberland and Clark counties.
Amy Kurt, a manager for Clean Line Energy, says the project is a win-win for Illinois and the environment. Part of her job is selling the project to wind energy suppliers and power companies whose contracts will finance the project's construction. But whether the power ends up being sold in Illinois or not, Kurt says increasing the supply of clean energy in the marketplace will clear the air and lower the price of electricity for everyone.
“When you have a great corn crop what happens to the price of corn?” Kurt said. “It goes down. And when you bring more electricity into the marketplace, the wholesale prices of power will drop.”
She says the new line will have a 4,000 megawatt capacity and the number of wind farm developers showing interest in using it already amounts to more than 13,000 megawatts. “So we also know there is a big demand for this project,” she added.
The lines will be carried by single or four-footed poles from 110 to 150 feet in height and landowners will be compensated for having them sited on their property. The compensation includes an easement fee and one-time payments of $6,000 or $18,000 per pole, depending on pole size, or landowners can choose annual payments of $500 or $1,500 per pole, based on pole size, and those payments will increase at 2 percent a year.
An agreement with the Illinois Department of Agriculture pledges Clean Line Energy to avoid disruption to farmland wherever it can and make good any damage and compensate farmers when dirsuption is unavoidable.
Counties where the line passes through will be offered compensation of $7,000 per mile, payable for 20 years. In the case of Shelby County, for example, the annual fee for 40 miles of the line would add up to $280,000.
The potential payouts aren't buying everybody's happiness, however, and a Block GBE Illinois protest movement has formed, similar to a protest group which opposes the Rock Island Clean Line, another wind energy transmission project in Northern Illinois which recently won regulatory approval. Central Illinois opponents range from landowners who don't want the line crossing their property to critics who say another power line is not needed.