PANA -- What will happen to their land and how much say they will have were the concerns of more than 120 Central Illinois landowners at a meeting sponsored by the Shelby County Farm Bureau on Thursday.
The meeting at Oak Terrace resort south of Pana was the first of two scheduled sessions featuring Illinois State Farm Bureau general counsel Laura Harmon.
The meetings lay out options for landowners in dealing with Clean Line Energy company’s Grain Belt Express, a proposed high-power electrical transmission line that would bring wind energy from southwestern Kansas to the eastern power grid across Missouri and Illinois.
Part of that route is through southern Christian and Shelby counties, and Clean Line is asking landowners for property easements.
“There are currently 16 utility projects in Illinois that impact landowners,” Harmon said. ‘We want you to have the information you need to best protect your interests and your land.”
The Grain Belt Express has run into controversy, mainly because it is a privately held company that has yet to build a wind farm or transmission line. The five-member Illinois Commerce Commission has to give permission for the project to continue, and Harmon said the company has asked for an expedited hearing, giving the commission 225 days to decide.
Harmon said the Farm Bureau is concerned the shortened time frame will not give landowners adequate time to consider their options.
“Don’t immediately buy into what they’re telling you,” she said. “You have to make sure. Easements live forever.”
State Sen. Chapin Rose, R-Mahomet, has expressed concerns the shortened approval time causes more problems than it solves.
"Several experiences have shown the expedited review process has not worked well and is the subject of a number of different lawsuits,” he said. “This has resulted in horrible outcomes for my constituents. For what was originally well-intentioned to save consumers money, it has instead turned into a disaster and hurt consumers.”
Shelby County Farm Bureau President Bob Hemer said his board had agreed to oppose the Grain Belt Express because of fears the company would use eminent domain to acquire land for the towers.
“We’ve polled members, and, basically, nobody wants it,” he said. “Eminent domain is the issue.”
Christian County landowner Pete Luzader said he is concerned about a private company using governmental systems to acquire property rights.
“They are billionaires looking to make millions off of landowners any way they can,” he said. “I’m against it.”
Ervin Hebert of Christian County said he doesn’t want high-voltage transmission lines on his property.
“I have two little granddaughters, and I don’t want the power lines anywhere close to their house,” he said.
Rose said he await the commission's decision on whether the Grain Belt Express will go ahead.
"In the case of Clean Line, I am not convinced they have met the full definition of a public utility, but that will be up to the regulators to decide that question,” he said.