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Thursday, Jan. 17, 2013 04:09 pm

Power lines may bring more than electricity

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The proposed routes for the Illinois River Transmission Project will span 330 miles. The project will help deliver renewable energy from Missouri to Indiana traveling through Illinois.

As Ameren moves forward with plans for a high-voltage power line across central Illinois, opposition is growing from some landowners and farmers to Ameren’s chosen route.

On Nov. 7, 2012, Ameren filed a petition with the Illinois Commerce Commission to construct a 345,000-volt transmission line from a new power substation in Palmyra, Mo., to a receiving substation in Sugar Creek, Ind.  

Known as the Illinois Rivers Transmission Project, it will span 330 miles.

The line will affect 18 counties in Illinois: Adams, Brown, Cass, Champaign, Christian, Clark, Coles, Edgar, Fulton, Macon, Montgomery, Morgan, Moultrie, Pike, Sangamon, Schuyler, Scott and Shelby.

Leigh Morris, spokesperson for Ameren, said the $1 billion project will benefit Illinois residents.

“The project is designed to facilitate the delivery of renewable energy, to resolve reliability constraints, while providing economic and efficiency benefits,” said Morris.

He said Illinois customers will see a slight increase in the transmission charge on their bill. However, Morris added, the project will create jobs and have an economic benefit ranging from $1.80 to $2.80 for every dollar spent.

With such a large-scale project, the concern among petitioners is growing as Ameren hopes a decision from the Illinois Commerce Commission will be expedited.

The Illinois Commerce Commission, which is responsible for deciding on cases regarding public utilities, has 150 days to grant or deny an application, with the possibility of a 75-day extension. The deadline for the commission to respond is April 5, 2013.

Attorney Bradley Wilson of Springfield represents a group of landowners and tenant farmers from Morgan and Sangamon counties. His clients, some of whom are farmers who use aerial spraying techniques on their crops, are concerned the power lines would disrupt their farming practices.

Wilson said his clients’ main argument is Ameren should follow the alternate route they indentified in their application. He said there is also already a 138-kilovolt-transmission line running from Meredosia to Pawnee, which could be used for the new line. They believe it would be more cost-effective and have contacted Ameren about the idea but have not yet gotten a response.

Wilson’s clients are also concerned because the FutureGen carbon sequestration project has been approved to construct a pipeline within some of the same areas as the transmission line.

“A lot of my clients would be doubly burdened. They would not only have this transmission line going across their property but they would also have this FutureGen pipeline,” Wilson said.

Some of the landowners and farmers are worried about potential health problems.

“One of my clients has a family member with a history of cancer and there are concerns about the possible harmful effects of having such a high-voltage transmission line within a few hundred yards of their residence,” he said.  “Another family has a grandson with medical needs and there are concerns about how the transmission line will impact the equipment their grandson needs in order to stay alive.”

Wilson says Ameren’s primary route is not cost-effective or efficient, and it also raises concerns about environmental impacts.

“I’m not surprised that the folks who are advocating the project are saying it’s not going to harm anyone,” he said. “I wouldn’t expect them to say anything else, but we respectfully disagree with that.”

Attorney Edward McNamara of Springfield represents land preservation groups from Morgan, Sangamon and Scott counties.

On Jan. 7 Ameren asked the commission to allow the company to revise the landowner list because several landowners from Pana to Mt. Zion were left out of the initial notifications.

In response, McNamara filed a reply to Ameren saying, “This is a massive case involving the property rights of hundreds, if not thousands, of private landowners located in east-central, central and west central Illinois,” he said. “This is not a case that should be decided on an expedited basis. Any private landowner whose property rights will be affected by any decision deserves better.”  

According to McNamara and Wilson, there is a possibility for their clients to receive compensation but it is dependent upon how the commission rules.

A hearing status conference is scheduled for 10:30 a.m. on Jan. 17 at the Illinois Commerce Commission office in downtown Springfield.

Contact Jacqueline Muhammad at intern@illinoistimes.com.

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