HARTLEY - The Iowa Utilities Board (IUB) recently presided over an informational meeting involving MidAmerican Energy and about 100 O'Brien County and western Clay County landowners at the Hartley Community Center.
This AC transmission line differs greatly from the proposed Rock Island Clean Line transmission line project from O'Brien County to Grundy County, Illinois in that the Rock Island line will operate at 600,000 volts DC.
MVP #3 and MVP #4 are sponsored by MidAmerican Energy and ITC Midwest. This new 345 kV power line terminates at the Hazleton Substation in Buchanan County northeast of Waterloo. Each transmission company will own 50% of the estimated $952 million transmission infrastructure.
These MVP projects total $5.6 billion of investment that MISO, the Midwest Independent System Operator, predicts will yield more than $2 billion in annual benefits for decades to come to Midwest energy consumers.
MISO unanimously approved 17 new MVP projects at their December 2011 Board of Directors meeting. Headquartered in Carmel, Indiana, MISO is the independent, non-profit entity that oversees the electric grid in 12 upper Midwest states and Manitoba.
*Iowa Utility Board Procedures
IUB regulation engineer Jim Sundermeyer read from an Iowa Code summary that explained when public utilities need to apply for a franchise to operate.
Addressing the landowners, Sundermeyer began, "The purpose of this meeting is to provide you with information, not to debate the merits of the project or to receive evidence. The merits may be the subject of a formal hearing before the IUB after the company files its franchise application.
"A franchise from the IUB is required for any electrical line outside of a city which is capable of operating at 69,000 volts or more. If an electric transmission line is one mile or more on privately held land, the Iowa Code requires that an informational meeting be held. The transmission company can't begin right-of-way negotiations until after this meeting is held."
Sundermeyer discussed the two methods for the transmission company to obtain the necessary right-of-way: voluntarily or through the utility's right to exercise eminent domain. Sundermeyer said, "It is the duty of the IUB to determine that the transmission line serves the public good."
The transmission company must then provide evidence to the Board that the new transmission infrastructure satisfies that requirement.
|Sundermeyer explained how landowners may file objections. He discussed how and where hearings are held to resolve issues and to ensure that the landowner gets fair compensation for allowing the utility to cross private property after condemnation proceedings, if needed.|
*Why Grid Expansion Now?
Jeff Gust, MidAmerican Energy vice president of compliance and standards, explained why these high voltage grid expansion projects are necessary and how they evolved.
Gust said, "This project is a culmination of a lot of work by our company, other regional utilities and MISO. MISO allows transactions of energy on this grid.
"This project provides multiple benefits and that's why we call it MVPs. The benefits include allowing more renewable energy to be interconnected onto the grid, primarily wind. Also, it allows for the system to be more reliable. We want to harden the grid to allow for contingencies to happen. There are times when the system gets bottlenecked with a lot of energy that needs to get transferred to a specific point. This will allow for that and that will help reduce costs for our customers and the region."
*Transmission Line Specifics
Specifically speaking to the MVP #3 project, MidAmerican Energy senior high voltage engineer Karl Donaubauer presented detailed information about this project.
Donaubauer began, "Most of the project, 100 miles of the 120 miles, we'll be reusing existing 161 kV right-of-way. Most of it is Cornbelt Power Coop's line, but some is MidAmerican Energy line. We'll rebuild it as a double circuit line. Both the 345 kV and the 161 kV circuits will be on the same pole. Where existing H-frame structures are used, approximately 800 will be removed and replaced with 644 steel monopoles.
"The first 16 miles is actually on new right-of-way in O'Brien County and into Clay County. There will be no guy wires or anchors in the fields. New substations will be built in O'Brien and Kossuth Counties."
As far as the actual routing process, the IUB has certain requirements. Donaubauer continued, "We must follow lines of land division which are section lines, quarter-section lines, quarter/quarter section lines and or active railroads."
He said the routing study was done with consultation from the Corps of Engineers, DNR, county boards, and county engineers. Land use, land development, wet land locations and stream crossings were also considered.
The typical steel poles are made of self weathering steel about 120 feet tall. Foundations are 6' diameter piers 25' deep. The typical span will be 1000' between poles.
"The poles will be centered 5' off the fence line, or property line, with a total of 150' of right-of-way. Eighty feet will be on one side of the property line and 70' on the other side," said Donaubauer. The minimum clearance from the ground to the 345 kV conductors will be 27' which is a National Electric Safety Code requirement.
The actual construction process includes route clearing like trimming and removing trees, foundation installation, pole installation, stringing cables and then clean-up. "The ruts will be smoothed out leaving the ground in the same condition as it was found," said Donaubauer.
"We look to start construction in November of 2014. Completion will be in December of 2016."
Dave Lane with MidAmerican's right-of-way services department reviewed the types of easements they were seeking. "We are seeking a general option for electric line easement. The rights we're seeking are the right to construct, re-construct, operate and maintain a transmission line across a specific portion of your property," said Lane.
The other type of easement is an overhang easement for the opposite side of property line. During the actual construction, a temporary easement for a wider area may be needed. "In most cases, the line will run across at the half-section line," said Lane.
Lane reviewed their methods and factors for monetary compensation. "We've spent probably the last nine months reviewing land sales trends. We use these market studies and watch various land sales in O'Brien and Clay Counties. And we looked at land sales in the area of the project.
"We will set a payment of 50% of these average sales in the range of $7,500 to $12,500 per acre for the area. If it's tillable ground, it's going to be at $12,500 figure. If we have pasture or wooded area, it will be at the lower figure," Lane explained.
Lane continued, "We'll have an area payment. For each pole on your property, there's an additional $2,500 that will be paid."
These figures are then totaled up. "As you meet with the land agent, if you enter into the option, we will pay you 20% of that total price that is calculated at the time the option is signed. Once the whole route is pulled together, and we are ready to go with the project, and we obtain our franchise, we will exercise that option. You will be mailed the balance of the payment at that time," said Lane.
Regarding crop damages after the project is completed, Lane said, "The land agents will return to review damage to the property with the land owner and or tenant and make the crop damage payment. For up to three years after, payments for yield loss due to compaction could be made."
Sundermeyer then opened the meeting up for general questions or concerns.
A question about MISO and how long they take to evaluate and decide where to build transmission lines was asked. Jeff Gust answered, "Typically, MISO will take proposals from regional utilities and take about a year to evaluate them. MISO decides which ones are best to proceed with and which ones aren't.
"In this case, this was a culmination of about three years of work. There were a number of stakeholder groups that got together and evaluated these proposals. There's a lot of interest in building wind generation, so they looked at this too.
"They looked at the existing transmission system itself and asked; where are the problems? Where are the bottlenecks? Where are we seeing places that by building new lines we might fix the problems? There were a lot of different iterations, as you can imagine. This took a lot longer than the normal process of about a year."
In the Midwest Transmission Expansion Plan (MTEP) 2011, MISO designated certain areas across their region as designated renewable energy zones. After a question, Gust explained the thinking behind this initiative.
Gust said, "These renewable energy zones are where wind resources are the best. MISO is not the developers of wind energy. They're not the ones advocating certain types of generation, but they know these areas would be the best places to add additional generation.
"MISO uses studies from different organizations to determine this. If these developers would build wind generation, this is most likely where they would go. So they determined these areas and this was used in the overall analysis. It wasn't the only thing they used. These projects have multiple benefits.
"Obviously, O'Brien County is an area where there's a good wind resource. Right now, the wind developers can not develop here because of constraints on the system itself. That's one of the reasons why we are building this line."
"Wind generation development and transmission system development are separate," Gust added.
Five separate MISO designated renewable energy zones, including Cherokee County, are located in a line that runs from O'Brien County in the northwest down to an area near Audubon County in west central Iowa.
MidAmerican Energy and Ameren Illinois are involved in another MVP project that begins at MidAmerican's Ottumwa, Iowa generating station. From there, this new 345 kV line runs south into Missouri and then east across Illinois and into Indiana.