PRIMGHAR, Iowa | O'Brien County would be the starting point for a $2 billion project aimed at breaking a bottleneck that has slowed development of new wind farms in Siouxland.
Clean Line Energy Partners wants to build a 500-mile high-voltage transmission lines to move wind-generated electricity to power hungry customers in metro Chicago.
Because it would simply transport power across Iowa and Illinois, rather than deliver it to homes and businesses along the way, the line would carry a direct current, rather than the alternating current of most electric lines.
Last year, Clean Line selected O'Brien County as the site for a $250 million station that would convert wind power from AC to DC before sending it east on the overhead lines.
The 3,500 megawatts-line -- three times more energy than the Hoover Dam -- would require an additional 2,000 wind turbines within about a 100-mile radius of O'Brien County, said Hans Detweiler, Clean Line's director of development.
Clean Line estimates the project would unlock $7 billion in new investments, and create more than 500 permanent jobs in the region.
The job creation, Detweiler said, would come primarily in sectors that would support and service the new wind farms, such as makers of towers, blades and other turbine components.
For more than two years, Clean Line officials have been meeting with local officials and land owners, and touting the project's economic benefits.
More than 5,000 construction jobs would be created. The mega project also would generate tens of millions of dollars in additional property taxes for local governments, and easement payments of between $150,000 and $200,000 per mile for landowners along the route.
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Clean Line and its general contractor, Omaha, Neb.-based Kiewit Power Constructors Co., held a series of community meetings to begin recruiting local vendors to supply labor, materials and other services along the route.
More than 100 local leaders from a six-county area turned out at a January meeting at Northwest Iowa Community College in Sheldon featuring Detweiler and other Clean Line officials.
"Here in O'Brien County and all of Northwest Iowa, Clean Line Energy has received a lot of support and favorable attitudes," O'Brien County economic development director Kiana Johnson said.
Though conditions are gusty, there currently are no wind farms in the county, But a number of projects are now under consideration, Johnson said.
For the convertor station, Clean Line has optioned more than 40 acres in O'Brien County's Center Township, near the county seat of Primghar. A handful of full-time jobs would be created to maintain the station.
Before moving ahead with construction, Houston-based Clean Line must still clear a number of regulatory hurdles.
The route through Iowa and Illinois is known as the Rock Island because it originally envisioned for the right-of-way for the former Rock Island Railroad. The company has identified a broad potential corridor that would pass through some other Northwest Iowa counties besides O'Brien, including Cherokee, Clay and Buena Vista.
Detweiler said the Iowa route should be finalized later this year. The company and Iowa Utilities Board will first hold public meetings in every county that the transmission line will traverse.
Last fall, in filings with the Illinois Commerce Commission, Clean Lean formally asked for approval of its proposed route through that state. The company also requested public utility status.
Detweiler said Clean Lean anticipates receiving its final regulatory approval no later than 2014 in Illinois and 2015 in Iowa. The line, which would take two to three years to build, would be placed in service in 2017 or 2018 under that time frame.