Seizing Farmland, the Sierra Club Way

The Illinois Commerce Commission recently voted to allow Clean Line Energy Partners to move forward with Illinois’ first merchant-owned electric transmission line. The Rock Island Clean Line project would transmit energy produced from the future development of wind energy projects in Iowa to Illinois through a 500-mile corridor of power lines strung atop 150-foot towers.

The project would cut across vast swaths of privately owned farmland to disproportionately benefit future wind energy development—a potential 2,000 turbines—at the expense of cheaper, and more readily available, conventional energy sources. It should come as no surprise that upon approval of the project, the director of the Illinois chapter of the Sierra Club immediately praised the plan—yet more than 1,400 Iowans have since filed objections with the Iowa Utilities Board over the project.

That’s because only 12 percent of the necessary voluntary easements have been signed by landowners, causing many to worry that their private property will be seized to make way for the project’s future development—all for a technology that requires more than 700 times as much land (yes, 700 times) as a shale gas pad to produce the same amount of energy. It’s one thing for the government to use eminent domain to build a highway, but this is a project that disproportionately benefits a less efficient energy industry propped up by federal tax credits.

As dependence on wind energy grows, so too do energy costs. Earlier this year, the American Wind Energy Association published a paper showing that energy costs in nine of the eleven states with the highest consumption of wind power have increased more than four times as fast as the national average.

Our energy grid simply cannot depend solely on the wishes of Big Green—no matter how hard they try to convince us otherwise. Wind and solar will be susceptible to periods of low or no energy production due to changes in weather for the foreseeable future — be it cloud cover or lack of wind. Rather than pushing for unachievable initiatives, like moving to 100% renewable energy production by 2030, groups like Sierra Club should get a grip on reality.

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