Power lines near Crystal Lake, Illinois. (Photo by Ron Zack via Creative Commons)

Report: How transmission line developers can ease opposition

A new media analysis offers transmission line developers several suggestions to ease the friction they commonly encounter with communities in their path.

The Center for Rural Affairs, a nonprofit think tank in Lyons, Nebraska, reviewed 100 recent media reports that included public reaction to transmission line projects.

“We just kept seeing the same reoccurring themes over and over and over,” said Johnathan Hladik, the center’s senior policy advocate on energy issues.

In general, people worry how projects will affect agriculture, health and the environment. They have questions about the need for transmission projects, and they have fears about the use of eminent domain and whether they’ll be treated fairly in the event that a project needs to take their land.

Opposition related to all of these issues appears to be made worse by misinformation or a lack of information.

“Communication is the absolute most important thing,” said Lu Nelsen, author of the report, From the Ground Up: Addressing Key Community Concerns in Clean Energy Transmission. “In most cases, [developers] spend too much time trying to catch up.”

The Center for Rural Affairs is a member of RE-AMP, which also publishes Midwest Energy News.

Opportunities to reach out

A historic transmission build-out is underway in the Midwest in an effort to help the nation’s aging electricity grid catch up to 21st century demands. As the frequency of outages grows, so does the need for new “green energy superhighways” to deliver wind power to cities from more sparsely populated rural areas.

With transmission bottlenecks being a key impediment to wind power’s growth, the report says it is critical for developers to address communities’ concerns.

The report’s recommendations include hosting more open houses, having a better online presence, and allowing more collaboration on routing decisions.

Some good news for developers: landowners and communities in the path of transmission projects often start out neutral or skeptical, but not reflexively opposed to projects. Instead, they tend to raise questions and concerns early on and wait for answers before taking a position.

It’s when these questions and concerns aren’t adequately addressed that views can harden against a project, the report suggests.

“One of the easiest recommendations for developers to implement is to increase the frequency of open houses and public meetings,” it says.

The report says that many developers treat open houses as an obligation rather than a chance to understand and address community concerns. It recommends earlier and more frequent open houses, as well as continued outreach after the meetings are held.

Improving websites with user-friendly designs and up-to-date information is another easy step for developers to improve communication, the report says. It cites the interactive page for a project in South Dakota by Otter Tail Power and Xcel Energy as an example.

Common objections

The report says developers could prepare fact sheets that anticipate and address concerns that community members are likely to raise.

They could also encourage more collaboration on project route and design. The report recommends that developers work with government, communities, landowners, and advocacy groups to identify environmentally sensitive or other significant areas that should be avoided for conservation reasons.

While there is no scientific link between transmission lines and human or animal health, the fears persist, nonetheless. The report suggests that developers mitigate those unproven worries by keeping lines as far away from residences as possible.

When concerns arise about agricultural land being taken out of production, developers could offer changes such as using monopoles, which have a smaller footprint, when crossing farm land.

And transmission companies could alleviate eminent domain and fairness fears by providing more information about how the easement process works, including publicly posting standardized easement agreements showing the terms that landowners can expect.

“Increasing the transparency of negotiations for land and demystifying the contracts used to acquire easements would go a long way in making landowners feel more empowered,” the report says.

Transmission developers may also need to consider alternative payment models, such as annual payments, in order to make landowners feel they have a stake in projects:

“The future of our transmission grid depends on innovation — not just technological, but also in the way that developers interact with communities involved.”

67 thoughts on “Report: How transmission line developers can ease opposition

  1. Ken, thanks for fairly considering the opposition and their facts and experiences and logic. One more thing I hope you will truly consider on behalf of the property owner, I think this is a fair comparison to how property owners would be impacted and have been treated. Suppose Clean Line gained eminent domain to the pages of your website, without you knowing. They decide it is necessary to place ads on your site. The day before your site is set to update, you find out the home page will now be a full page ad, as well as interstitials on every other page and banner ads across the top of other pages. Clean Line would get paid every time an ad is looked at, you get no royalty. You ask them to consider less invasive locations that are less important to the success of your site, they tell you an ad cant go on the bottom of the pages because there is a prairie chicken PSA there. None of the other locations you suggest are considered, and by this time the site has to update in two hours. Dont forget, they have eminent domain over your site, people need to know about their energy. You try to get a judge to intervene, but it is too late, plus he is friends with Clean Line. Clean Line will pay you half the going ad rate for each page they place an ad on, well, at least for this update, or you can choose to receive 1/10 the avg rate each weekly update going forward for ten updates or so, or until Clean Line sells to National Grid, then who knows. After that, according to Clean Line, since you already have the ad templates, it shouldnt impact your business to have those ads run forever in the same location, your visitors are already used to them, so your company doesnt deserve any more payments, all while they continue to be paid increasing amounts every time their ads are viewed. Other sites that have very little or no traffic contract with Clean Line because the money seems good to them, so it has to be fair, right? The public learns about Clean Line, albeit at your expense, your livelihood and others’ would be put at risk, the potential for your site is threatened, you hire an attorney and maybe the court decides to compensate you a little more so you can afford to invent a new site from scratch. This is not hyperbole, it is as close to a fair comparison as I can make to how property owners in Kansas feel. And, it’s not so easy for the property owner to invent new land.

  2. Scott – *I* know what the alternatives are (and their limitations, particular amid a need to drastically reduce carbon emissions). What I wanted to hear was your opinion. Thanks for sharing.

    Guys – forgot Monday is a holiday, jumped in to approve comments this morning and I’ll be back on Tuesday. I do feel like we’ve sort of run our course here, but feel free to post additional thoughts here or contact us via email.

  3. LOL. You fell like we’ve “run our course here” ? Wow. The dialogue is just getting started, and you (as the industry in general) haven’t even started to understand the dynamics at work and how “Clean” Line Energy Partners, LLC has changed transmission siting in perpetuity.

  4. I am not at all convinced there is any need to stop generating with coal power plants. The global warming that has been predicted isn’t taking place. I think it’s just the latest politically correct position. This country has vast coal reserves and we should use them. China is building coal power plants, so how much difference would it make to limit ours? And how about nuclear plants? They have been operating safely for generations, let the eastern states build what is needed in their own neighborhoods. I’m a Missouri landowner that is opposed to Grain Belt Express power lines crossing my land.

  5. What I mean, BlockRICL, is in this conversation we keep circling back to the same core arguments. Basically what you’re all saying is that new transmission lines like RICL aren’t needed because other regions should generate their own electricity, because distributed energy will save the day, or, in Bob’s case, because he thinks climate science is incorrect and we can just go back to building coal plants.

    So, through future coverage, we’ll continue exploring these issues. You will find us credible or not credible depending on whether our reports fit your narrative, such is the nature of motivated reasoning. But we are listening and will continue to do so.

  6. You are incorrect. I am saying the “Clean” Line Energy Partners LLC projects such as Rock Island “Clean” Line and Grain Belt Express lack merit and are not needed. You’re doing exactly what “Clean” Line wants- putting labels on the opposition instead of looking at the lack of merit in the projects and the HUGE red flags raised by expert witnesses UNDER OATH- and not some kool-aid sales pitch being peddled by their ex-AWEA lobbyist. Read the transcripts from the Illinois Commerce Commission December hearings and see how YOU would feel if this project were to TAKE, by force, YOUR income and investment…… in perpetuity.

  7. There are other projects besides RICL, and there are other views besides your own.

  8. Again, you’ve replied and summarized in a way that, instead of attempting to understand the new paradigm in transmission opposition (spurred by “Clean” Line’s obvious tactics and disrespect for landowners), disparages the exact people you say you are trying to understand. Gosh, really? More projects than RICL and more views other than mine? No kidding. You mean the dozen or so grassroots organizations across the Midwest gaining strength and momentum by the minute?

  9. Ah – so let’s go back to my question that no one seems willing to answer. Are all of those projects unnecessary? Are *any* new transmission projects needed?

  10. So Ken, maybe you could answer this question for us. Would you favor the creation of an inter-connected East-West grid to facilitate energy wheeling, and another private Enron styled electricity trading platform? We still have abandoned half-built sub-stations scattered around the Midwest from that fiasco.

  11. Well, again, this is a news site and we don’t take policy positions. Personally, though, I would agree that enabling private companies to game electricity prices for short-term profit would be a bad thing. But that’s a regulatory issue, not an infrastructure issue.

    Still waiting for an answer to my question.

  12. Ken, to answer your question about my home and whether it is off-grid or not, I will tell you that we are not completely off-grid, though it would only take some minor tweaking to do so. We use passive solar, through huge southern exposed windows and energy conservation methods. About half of our house is underground; concrete is used in a way that holds heat in winter and stays cool in summer. Blinds and drapes hold in heat in winter, or keeps out sun in summer combined with heavy foam insulation on underground exterior and on walls and roof/ceiling. Our appliances are either manual, or of the highest energy efficiency. My parents were raised during the Great Depression and I learned many practical ways of living that requires very low electrical use or none. Our home is comfortable and our energy bills extremely low. We do have solar panels, but we have yet to install them. We use no gas and heat with wood, but because of the way we insulated, we use very little wood. There are enough dead trees laying around that people will sometimes pay you for taking them away.
    So do I think new long-haul transmission is needed? Nope. Got lots of easements already in place. Do transmission lines already in place need to be repaired? Probably. Everything wears down over time and maintenance is required. But as households smarten-up and continue the trend of reducing their energy bills and consumption by going off-grid and producing their own energy for their own use, how many new transmission lines do you think we would need? Since the advent of cell phone technology, how many new telephone lines have you seen go up? I remember when local metropolitan phone books were thick and we could use them as booster seats for Johnny at the dinner table. Now they are slim and shrinking.
    And as far as reliability is concerned, how reliable is a 700 mile long transmission line, as proposed by “Clean” Line, as opposed to an off-grid community. If power goes out on my house, no body is affected but me. And repairs are local, not hundreds of miles away, as with long-haul transmission.
    If I were you, I would consider getting into the distributed generation business.

  13. Thanks Amy – appreciate the response, and congrats on your energy-efficient home.

    There are a lot of differing views about the mix of distributed/centralized energy that will be needed. It’s an issue we’re digging into for an upcoming story.

    BTW, you might find this Ken Silverstein article interesting.

  14. I read the article, didn’t read all the comments yet. I just wanted to ask if RICL or any licensing agent is required to survey or research Cultural Resources in the paths of any line in Iowa? Where is the Iowa Preservation Office in all this? I have never heard anyone remark on this. I see in the article you mentioned Otter Tail and Excel two companies who were required to meet with tribal reps who historically had village sites in the proposed path of construction. I ask that all the reporters, land owners and especially RICL do research on cultural resources. RICL, IA SHPO and ANY licensing agents are suppose to make sure consultation has been done with tribes, also ANY cultural resource on land owners property should have the chance to be surveyed for cultural resources of ANY and all historic happenings. Its the law! A state away in Nebraska its the Indians and the Cowboys banning together to fight eminate domain. Reach out to those who have been through it, are going through it and get them to come speak at your meetings. Reports, interview some Tribal Historic Preservation Office’s who know the laws inside and out, who know Cultural resource preservation inside and out. The state Preservation Office is not going to lake you by the hand and help you. They are not going to tell you what tribes cultural resource was once on your land or still is. Probably because they already cleared your county on paper. They already got their “donation” (?). Make the state do their job. They work for us, no? schilders2006@hotmail.com

  15. What a lovely piece of propaganda. Fortunately the “locals” are not buying it. No scientific evidence regarding the dangers of electro magnetic fields and transmission lines? Do you research next time.Poor journalism is inexcusable.

  16. Correct, Russell. There is no scientific evidence supporting claims that transmission lines pose a health hazard. The exposure at ground level from a power line is a small fraction of the background exposure you’re already receiving from earth’s magnetic field. Read more here.

  17. This is really offensive… where to start? But then again, we all know that Fresh Energy, Izaak Walton League, Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy, and North American Water Office sold out and gave the utilities everything they ever wanted. Transmission developers/utilities ease opposition by buying them off, but thankfully, not all opposition is for sale!