Thursday, December 13, 2012

Clean Line Energy, RICL, RETA, and Eminent Domain



Here is a little insight in how Clean Line Energy is playing America’s Enrgy War in the Southwest.  Clean Line Energy Partners did this PowerPoint at Stanford University, or at least it ended up on Standford’s website.  It focuses on land acquisition in the southwest for RICL’s sister project, Centennial  West Clean Line.  Clean Line wants to truck 3,500 megawatts from solar farms in New Mexico, through Arizona to California.  The last line of the presentations sums the presentation up best and says;

A new grid requires new partnerships between developers, utilities and government and non-governmental organizations

The entire presentation is devoted to making relations with the existing utilities, the government, and other special interest organizations, like the Sierra Club.  Interestingly, there is a Federal Government Rapid Response Team to help utility companies work through the maze of government agencies to build a powerline.  It is a bit shocking that the federal government is so in favor of any new powerline project that there is a “rapid response team” working as an advocate for the proposed powerline and the company.  Nothing in the presentation refers to the landowners.  After reading this presentation one wonders if only the government owns land in the southwest. 

There are actually private landowners in New Mexico.  Clean Line Energy just refuses to acknowledge them.  The company’s strategy is to acknowledge and work with everybody but the landowners.  It is interesting to read this powerpoint and realize RICL is following the same model.  When a team is properly assembled, the landowners will then be forced into submission. 

RICL says they have held over 600 meetings, and like Centennial West, these meeting are with government employees form county board members to state senators, but not landowners.  Land owners are ignored. 

Hans Detweiler Exhibit 7.0 to the ICC –“Accordingly, from March 2010 through June 2012, the Rock Island Routing Team 391 conducted more than 600 in-person meetings across the project area in Iowa and Illinois. “

RICL won’t say how many of these meeting were with land owners.  HDR Engineering held 26 informational meeting with the public for RICL, but RICL has yet to host a townhall style meeting with the affect public in Illinois.  It appears RICL wanted to be insulated from the public by having HDR Engineering host the meeting and act as RICL employees.

There is one difference with Centennial and RICL.  Clean Line also used a different strategy in New Mexico to obtain eminent domain.  In 2010 the company obtained the power of eminent domain through RETA.  Renewable Energy companies know there is a snowball’s chance in July to obtain “public utility status” so the renewable companies have lobbied New Mexico and several other states to create a “Renewable Energy Transmission Authority”.  These quasi-government organizations grant companies like RICL eminent domain powers.  It’s easier to obtain eminent domain powers when the state lowers its standards with a new organization like RETA’s.

Even RETA’s board members have doubts about Clean Line’s motivations.    According to minutes from an Oct. 27, 2010 board meeting, one RETA member, Betty Rivera “questioned if the principal motive behind the [agreement] was to secure RETA’s power of eminent domain.” 

Chairman Robert Busch replied that RETA’s eminent domain procedures will be “based on the understanding that Clean Line will do everything within its power to acquire the necessary property without the use of eminent domain.” 

“We understand that the eminent domain process is a very sensitive issue,” Clean Line’s front man Keith Sparks  replied “Our preference is not to have to resort to eminent domain.” ….That’s the same line Hans Detweiler uses in Illinois. 

What is interesting about this PowerPoint is RICL is following the same strategy as Centennial West.  RICL makes alliances with utilities, government and non-governmental organizations.  RICL has a handful of supporting letters from small town restaurants to potential contractor, unions, Sierra Club...and so on, and RICL ignores the  hundreds of letters written in opposition to local papers and sent to the ICC for both docket numbers.   All the time RICL tries it’s best to ignores the landowners as much as possible.  If eminent domain powers are reluctantly granted, they will have the muscle, the gun, or perhaps the “nuclear missile” to deal aggressively with land owners.

RICL fails to realize the rules have changed for this new smart grid.   Landowners are not someone to ignore until there is enough muscle to deal with them harshly.  The economic value of the land is not just agriculture, recreation, or pasture.  The economic value of land changes, especially when a merchant transmission line values the land. 

There are two ways to look at land values when a HVDC powerline comes through.  First, it will decrease the property value as an eye soar.  It reduces and limits the land usability permanently with physical and legal restriction.  There is another way to look at the land’s value.  The land now has a rare commodity above it.  The land is now connected contiguously for 500 miles from Spenser, Iowa to Channahon, Illinois.  When property has such a value, shouldn’t a royalty be paid to the landowners rather than a small right of way purchase?  Perhaps this is why RICL desires to ignore landowners.  They do not want landowners to organize and recognize the value of their land. 

Clean Line Energy prefers to play politics with public utility boards, renewable energy transmission authorities, commerce commissions, ect., and obtain special powers of eminent domain.  Fortunately, there will not be a RETA in Illinois.   Governor Quinn is too weak and inept to create such an organization.  Even still, the last thing RICL wants to do is even admit landowners exist until they have power of eminent domain.  Michael Skelly refuses to come to Mendota and explain his project to the Illinois stakeholders.  He’d much rather steal the land and ignore the consumer’s concerns, resident’s worries, and landowner’s concerns.   The RICL project is nothing more than personal greed.  If it wasn’t about personal greed, Mr. Skelly would be presenting his case personally to the residents of Illinois.



I oppose Rock Island Clean Line (ICC Docket # 12-0560)

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