Keryn Newman

West Virginia

member of Block Grain Belt Express, based in Kingston, Mo.

To the editor:

The first battle of America’s Energy War was fought by Minnesota farmers against a coal-fired, high-voltage transmission line in the 1970s. Now the second battle of the war is well under way in the Midwest, pitting farmers against foreign investors who want to take the most fruitful farmland in the world out of production so they can build a gigantic extension cord from the windy plains to Eastern cities.

But this battle isn’t just about one power line. The war is about America’s energy future. Will we embrace rapidly developing technology that transforms electricity consumers to sustainable energy producers? Or will we continue in slavery to century-old centralized generation that requires long-distance transmission, and the sacrifice of one segment of our society to the needs of another?

Clean Line Energy Partners, based in Houston, is developing five high-voltage transmission projects, involving more than 3,000 miles of new towers, wire, and clear-cut right of way, with an $8 billion price tag. The company claims it will provide “low-cost clean energy” across the country, generated by industrial-scale wind farms, if only state utility commissions and the U.S. Department of Energy will allow it to take others’ properties, for its own financial gain.

Clean Line’s projects are privately funded, speculative ventures. They should not be confused with new transmission projects ordered by regional grid planners for reliability or economic reasons.

The company would have the public believe these projects are needed. They are not. The purpose of these projects is to generate a financial return for their investors. The lines are being marketed to appeal to urban residents concerned about cutting greenhouse gases, claiming the electricity carried on the lines will be “clean.”

But Clean Line neglects to mention that it can’t guarantee delivery of “clean” electricity. It doesn’t tell potential customers that federal regulations require transmission lines to be “open access,” made available to carry electricity from all fuel sources, including electricity produced from fossil fuels.

Thousands of landowners, including many family-owned farm businesses, lie between Clean Line’s intended power source and the consumers it is targeting on the East Coast. Being offered “fair market value” for one’s land is not a choice if Clean Line can threaten the use of eminent domain should a farmer decline to sell. It is coercion.

Prime farmland is a finite resource that also serves a fundamental public need, providing food for all of our society. Once farmland is taken out of production, it’s lost forever.

Adding insult to injury, these lines will be obsolete as soon as they’re built. A sea change is taking place in the utility world. Consumers are becoming producers, making their own investments in rooftop solar systems and other on-site or local sustainable generation. Americans are no longer simply consumers of what large utilities want to sell; increasingly they demand both choice and control. Clean Line and other long-distance renewable energy transmission projects are a wrongful attempt to apply yesterday’s technology to today’s energy reality.

Clean Line may tout its projects as “renewable,” but there’s nothing sustainable about them. This second energy battle is going to be epic, but ultimately, sustainable energy choices must prevail.