Clean Line would carry wind power across Iowa

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Posted: Monday, February 17, 2014 12:00 am

Sabre Industries in Sioux City, Iowa, has been tapped to manufacture up to 3,000 steel utility poles for a high-voltage transmission line that, if approved, would carry wind power from northwest Iowa to Illinois.

The cost of the transmission project is estimated at $2 billion.

The manufacturer’s contract with Houston-based Clean Line Energy Partners is worth more than $120 million and would supply poles for all of Clean Line’s 500-mile Rock Island Clean Line project. Sabre is in the process of expanding its employment from about 450 to more than 500, company officials said.

When finished, the line would carry up to 3,500 megawatts of wind power from north-central O’Brien County, Iowa, to Grundy County, Ill., southwest of Chicago.

Kiewit Power Constructors Co., a subsidiary of Omaha-based Kiewit Corp., would oversee the main construction of the line following approval.

Hans Detweiler, director of development for Clean Line Energy Partners, said the company is awaiting approval from regulators in Iowa and Illinois before it sets a timeline on construction, but he estimated the line to be in service in 2017 following about two years of construction.

“You’re seeing strong demand in state laws for renewable energy and you’re also seeing a very broad move away from coal,” Detweiler said. “You bundle those together and there’s a very strong demand for additional resources.”

A spokeswoman for MidAmerican Energy said the utility will not send any power down the Rock Island Clean Line, but the Berkshire Hathaway-owned company is currently working on other transmission projects in Iowa.

Two projects will result in 191 miles of transmission lines built exclusively in Iowa. One project will connect Ottumwa, Iowa, to Adair, Mo., and another consists of 32 miles of transmission line in western Illinois.

These lines and others would strengthen wind power exports for Iowa, which remains near the top of all U.S. states in terms of both wind energy production capacity and new facilities under construction, according to the American Wind Energy Association.

The Rock Island Clean Line would contribute about $2.5million in taxes to Iowa counties it would cross, Detweiler said. And for landowners in the line’s right of way, Detweiler said, a half-mile easement would earn about $100,000, with farmers retaining ownership of land under transmission lines.

Despite the promise of up to 5,000 temporary jobs and approximately 500 permanent jobs resulting from the completion of line, however, the Rock Island Clean Line project has been criticized by some local landowners, interest groups and a few Iowa legislators because the wind power it will carry is destined for Illinois and eastern states.

Harold Prior, who is transitioning out of his previous role as executive director of the Iowa Wind Energy Association, said there is a case to be made for landowners’ rights. But he said the same arguments were made when construction began on the federal Interstate highway system.

“Look at how Iowa and Nebraska have benefited from that infrastructure, and imagine where we’d be today, trying to export our goods, without it,” Prior said.

The Omaha World-Herald Co. is owned by Berkshire Hathaway Inc.

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