WILSON: Perceptions over health issues fuel debate over electri - Quincy Herald-Whig | Illinois & Missouri News, Sports

WILSON: Perceptions over health issues fuel debate over electric line proposal

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A political battle is underway in Missouri pitting a green energy company against a grass-roots movement with concerns about public health and property rights.

Missouri's Public Service Commission will hold hearings this year on the high-voltage, direct current "clean line" proposed by Grain Belt Express. The company proposes to generate wind energy in southwestern Kansas and then transmit it along 750 miles of transmission lines through Missouri and Illinois on its way to Indiana, where it would link up with other electric grids.

Grain Belt Express focuses on the green and clean energy aspects of the plan. The company says it will deliver up to 3,500 megawatts of renewable power for up to 1.4 million homes per year. It will pay utility taxes to counties through which it passes -- reported at up to $750,000 per year in some counties.

Opponents see the company as a corporate entity that wants to build on private property and may well put residents' health at risk due to the electromagnetic fields created by high-voltage lines.

Perceptions about the two sides in the debate will be important.

Dr. Dennis Smith of Moberly plans to testify at the Public Service Commission hearings about possible health risks.

Smith is a physician who works in the emergency room at Moberly Regional Medical Center. Cancer research is not his specialty, but it's a big part of the testimony he plans to give.

Smith readily admits that he had no part in doing the health research -- 1,479 pages of which he waded through during weeks of study. He also knows that many people will question his testimony, since he has long been an opponent of the transmission line project and owns property on the line's path.

He hopes those things won't make people discount his testimony.

"I wasn't expecting to be absolutely convinced and now I am," Smith said.

Much of the health data Smith went through can be found at the Bioinitiative website. And most of the data on the site involves cellphones and wireless technology, not electric transmission lines.

Smith said that should not detract from his testimony.

"I only commented on exposure applicable to direct current lines," Smith said. "I knew cellphones had a risk and have an effect. I knew that wasn't applicable to what we're fighting here."

Grain Belt Express officials agree there's a fight, but are using conclusions from the World Health Organization to bolster their argument that there are no health concerns.

"The conclusion of all these studies is there's no known health risk associated with exposure" to transmission lines proposed by Grain Belt, said Mark Lawlor, the company's director of development.

In fact, the WHO does conclude in a 2013 report that electromagnetic frequency exposure is only a threat when it's at close proximity.

Smith said even that WHO report confirms that exposure can cause cancer.

"It's a choice to use a cellphone. If this comes on a person's property, its no longer a choice and they can be exposed 24 hours a day," Smith said.

Public Service Commission hearings will be held in several cities along the proposed transmission route between Aug. 5 and Sept. 4. Among those hearings will be one at 11 a.m. Aug. 12 in the Knights of Columbus Hall, Monroe City, and at 5 p.m. that same day in the theater auditorium at Hannibal-LaGrange University, where Ralls County residents are asked to attend.

-- dwilson@whig.com/221-3372

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