Exclusive Q&A Interview With Ameren of Illinois Official On Mark Twain Transmission Line Project

Exclusive Q&A Interview With Ameren of Illinois Official On Mark Twain Transmission Line Project

Questions by Echo Menges

 

Q: What is your name and job title? What does that title mean?

A: Peggy Ladd, Director of Stakeholder Relations for Ameren Transmission Company of Illinois (ATXI). I serve as primary interface to the public and community representatives to seek public input as transmission projects are presented, and routing of those projects are discussed and determined. We want to hear from people and get their feedback to determine the best possible route.

 

Q: What is your role in the Mark Twain Transmission Project?

A: My role is to present the Mark Twain Transmission Project to the people in the area of the project. It is a two-fold role: I share the facts and information of the project, as well as current status of routes to the community. I also listen to feedback, suggestions and comments from people and community leaders in the area. I share that information with our project team, in hopes of developing the best route for all concerned.

 

Q: Why is there a need for the project?

A: There has not been a significant investment in transmission lines since the 1960s and 1970s, when lines were constructed to bring the energy needed at that time for the trend of bringing air conditioning and other commercial improvements to the larger population. ATXI belongs to a regional transmission organization, known as MISO, that has the responsibility for planning for any expansion in its responsible area. (www.misoenergy.org) In 2011, its Board of Directors of MISO approved a regional transmission plan that included what is now called the Mark Twain Transmission Project, as well as 16 other "Multi-Value Projects" (MVPs). MISO reconfirmed the benefits of these projects in a recent media release: https://www.misoenergy.org/AboutUs/MediaCenter/PressReleases/Pages/MISOConfirmsBenefitsofMVPProjects.aspx

As a part of the study process that determined the need for the project, MISO identified the following: Improving access to generation, including renewable energy sources; improving reliability of the electric system; and improving access to lower-cost energy by reducing transmission congestion. It will also provide benefits to Missouri by supporting approximately 200 construction jobs and providing more options for state utilities to meet the Missouri Renewable Energy Standard (MoRES).

Simply put, so we can improve keeping the lights on reliably, the electric grid in our country will benefit from additional capacity beyond its current capacity, which is often called the largest "machine" in the country.  A machine that virtually all of us use.

 

Q: Why is the transmission line being built by Ameren Transmission Company of Illinois (ATXI) and not Ameren of Missouri?

A: Because this is a regional project, Ameren Corporation structured a transmission-only subsidiary (ATXI) to build and operate these larger regional projects. There are two other projects in Illinois that are also being built or proposed by ATXI. Ameren Missouri's business is different. It builds local transmission projects to reliably serve its customers.

 

Q: Why has Ameren Transmission Company of Illinois filed a suit against the Missouri Public Service Commission? How long ago was the suit filed?

A: We are seeking a declaratory judgment through the courts. Although we do not typically comment on pending legal matters, we can say we do not believe the Missouri PSC has jurisdiction over this project.

 

Q: Is Ameren/Ameren of Illinois trying to obtain easements for the Mark Twain Transmission Project through public domain?

A: Not at this time.

 

Q: Why or why not?

A: Any such act would be premature. ATXI would prefer to negotiate agreements with any landowner whose property is along the route. At this time, we do not have a final route. Once that route is determined, we will begin discussions with landowners with hopes of reaching mutually acceptable agreements with those landowners. Eminent domain is thefinal option we would pursue, and only then if all other acquisition options fail.

 

Q: If so, why is eminent domain acquisition being pursued before all other land easement acquisition options have been exhausted?

A: It is not.

 

Q: If eminent domain is being pursued, what stage of the process of obtaining eminent domain is Ameren Transmission Company of Illinois at?

A: N/A

 

Q: And, when will it be known (decided by the court)?

A: We do not know at this time.

 

Q: Once easements are obtained, through eminent domain or otherwise, can Ameren Transmission Company of Illinois add structures and/or increase the power load to those power lines/poles/structures without permission from the landowner?

A: During the process of ROW easement acquisition, we work with property to determine number of structures and their placement on the property. If the scope of the easement does not allow for additions, then those proposed additions could not occur. That goes for the voltage of the line as well.

 

Q: If so what is the likelihood of that happening and under what circumstances could it happen?

A: We do not have reason to believe that any additions would be made, however, over long periods of time, things change. If that would happen, we would work within the confines of the existing easement agreement, or would be required to renegotiate.

 

Q: Some have said annual payments to landowners are the future of transmission line planning. Why is Ameren/Ameren of Illinois so opposed to offering annual payments to landowners?

A: We prefer to compensate landowners fully in the initial easement payment. We believe we fully compensate those landowners. If any landowner would like to take some or all of that payment and set up an annual annuity or other investment with that payment, that would be their option. This gives those who want one payment, up front, and those that want continual payments the opportunity to set up a financial structure that is best for them and their family.

 

Q: Who’s decision was it to take annual payments off the table where the Mark Twain Transmission Project is concerned?

A: See above.

 

Q: Why won't Ameren consider offering annual payments to landowners for every transmission line tower/pole/structure on their property throughout the lifetime of the line?

A: See above.

 

Q: Ameren maintains sole responsibility for managing trees and vegetation around and underneath power lines, which includes the use of herbicides. How are organic farms taken into account?

A: Once identified, ATXI can establish "no spray" areas to meet the needs of organic farms. It is not the intention of ATXI to impede the opportunity for organic farms to do business. I myself, belong to a co-op, and weekly pick up produce from out-state Missouri. I appreciate that local, organic produce. I want to make sure it remains an option for me, as well as others in our state. ATXI strives to be a good steward. Our established practices, including respecting organic farms, are part of that stewardship.

 

Q: Does Ameren limit or eliminate the spraying of herbicide chemicals on or near organic farms?

A: Yes, if identified.

 

Q: Why or why not?

A: It is the right thing to do.

 

Q: Does Ameren limit or eliminate the spraying of herbicide chemicals near occupied dwellings?

A: Yes, if identified.

 

Q: Why or why not?

A: Most dwellings are away from Right of Ways (ROWs), and for areas that are already maintained, there is no need for herbicides.

 

Q: How do you respond to suggestions that high voltage power lines and electromagnetic fields overcharge electric fencing and electrify metal fencing/containers, which is feared to be a danger to humans and livestock?

A: Please see:

https://www.ameren.com/-/media/Corporate-Site/Files/environment/emf-brochure.pdf?la=en

There has been abundant, significant, scientific research on this topic. There has also been a significant amount of "urban myth" around it. I prefer to focus on the scientific research, which shows no adverse effect on crops, animals or humans. The average house has more EMF exposure than that found at the edge of the power line right of way. The research is voluminous, however. So much so, that we have posted, in our recent EMF brochure (see link above), available on our website, the various scientific studies that have been done. I urge everyone to get the facts. Do your research. But before worrying, make sure you are focusing on the truth, and not someone else's interpretations, or fears, or most recent YouTube postings.

 

Q: What are the tax benefits to individual counties where the Mark Twain Transmission Line will be placed? Can you sum it up in figures/estimates for each county?

A: This is a lengthy answer. I can get this for you, but it will take me a bit more time.

 

Q: What type(s) of information is being withheld from being released to the public and why?

A: We are not withholding any information. We strive to present all the facts about this project. If we are not answering a question, it is because we honestly do not know the answer yet. Example: Will this route be on my property? (Until the route is finalized, we honestly do not know.)

 

Q: Has the final route of the Mark Twain Transmission Line already been decided?

A: No, it has not. At this point, there are two options, but we have not run those through our public process yet. Those meetings occur at the end of this month. And there could still be modifications, based on public input from those meetings.

 

Q: When exactly will the final route of the Mark Twain Transmission Line be released to the public?

A: We hope to have final routes determined by the end of this year.

 

Q: Have Ameren Transmission Company of Illinois representatives been invited to community meetings held by those in opposition to the project?

A: Yes, I was invited by Deborah Makes to attend one earlier this month. I was not able to attend due to my schedule.

 

Q: Would Ameren representatives be willing to attend or contribute info to those meetings?

A: Ameren prefers to talk with people one on one. However, we are looking forward to a meeting with some of the founders of that group. We expect that to take place before the end of the month.

 

Q: Why or why not?

A: We feel that in a "town hall" setting, there tends to be ineffective communication. We are happy to share information. We want to hear from everyone. And we would like the opportunity to fully discuss the facts.

 

Q: How does recent opposition to the transmission line project by elected county officials affect the project?

A: When given constructive feedback, we are happy to investigate opportunities to improve the routes. Unfortunately "no" doesn't give us constructive feedback. We know the line is needed. Other officials have shared their support for the project. We would rather have a conversation with officials to find out what it is that drives their opposition, and if there is any way of mediating those concerns. We did not hear any officials oppose the project during our first round of meetings, for example.

 

Q: Do any of the Ameren companies have any other transmission line projects coming down the pike that could be constructed in Northeast/Northern Missouri?

A: There is one connection that needs to occur, and we expect to be back in the Kirksville area for that short line. We need to connect the existing Ameren Missouri substation south of Kirksville to the new substation that we are calling Zachary. As we have not begun routing on that project, we have nothing to share with the public yet. We expect to be out talking about that line, and taking comments in early 2015.

 

Q: What are some of the biggest misconceptions you've heard about the project?

A: There are many. There is a picture posted online of a helicopter spraying a pole, and the caption stated that it was how we would be doing vegetation management. I spoke with the person that was credited with the posting, shared that it was incorrect, and, as of today, the picture still remains. Answer: That isn't how we do vegetation management.

I've had callers tell me that they were told they had to sign a petition against the project, or they could "lose their land to Ameren's land grab". Answer: Not true. We are asking for perpetual easements, which means the land, would not change hands. It would be a lease, and can still be used for farming, grazing, and other things such as hunting.

Some people told us that crops grown under lines cannot be eaten. Answer: Simply not true.

I've had many folks ask me how much the government is paying Ameren to build this. Answer: They aren't.

There are so many myths out there. I appreciate that you are giving ATXI to get the facts out there. An honest explanation of the facts is the right thing for us to do.

Please visit this page for more information about the truth of the project: http://www.ameren.com/mark-twain/facts

 

Q: How will the Mark Twain Transmission Line Project benefit the state and the individual counties it runs through during and after construction?

A: Adding this transmission line to the grid gives many benefits. Generators -- whether wind, solar, gas, methane, whatever fuel -- will have the ability to access the grid. As more generation becomes available, a greater mix of options are available for utilities in the state to serve their customers. The grid also benefits from a certain amount of redundancy. Just like you want more than one road into town, it’s better to have more than one way of getting megawatts to substations in the state. This project helps that. There are jobs that will come with this project. We estimate it would take 2 people working full-time a YEAR to build just 1 mile of this line. That's 200 jobs for 1 year. Good paying jobs. And workers tend to spend the money in their local communities. Even after construction, there is maintenance that will be conducted every so often. Hotel rooms. Restaurant tabs. Gas from local gas stations. I could go on.

I pride myself on sharing the truth about this project. It is the right thing to do, for all concerned. As a small farm owner myself, I do recognize that this project will affect people along its route, just as when Highway 63 was built, and expanded. I also know that this project is needed. And if Ameren does not build it, as it committed to MISO it would, MISO will assign the project to another transmission company. I ask everyone to help us find the right solution. Share options. Keep an open mind. We can compromise within reason. We cannot simply turn our backs and do nothing.

(Note: Read an editorial about how this interview came about in the October 22, 2014, edition of The Edina Sentinel.)

Echo Menges
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About Echo Menges

Editor of The Edina Sentinel