Clean Line, Illinois regulators appeal decision rejecting utility status

Source: By Michael Lustig, SNL • Posted: Tuesday, September 20, 2016

As expected, transmission developer Clean Line Energy Partners and several other parties asked the Illinois Supreme Court to reverse a state appeals court’s decision that stripped the company of public utility status, preventing it from working on a high-voltage, direct-current line through the state.

The Illinois Commerce Commission in late 2014 granted a Clean Line affiliate a certificate of public convenience and necessity for its proposed Rock Island Clean Line, a roughly 500-mile line from northwestern Iowa to Grundy County, Ill., southwest of Joliet, Ill., capable of carrying up to 3,500 MW of wind-generated electricity.

Local landowners and Chicago-area utility Commonwealth Edison Co., an Exelon Corp. subsidiary, challenged the commission’s decision. In August, the state Third District Appellate Court agreed with their arguments, saying that Clean Line does not qualify as a “utility” under state law and that the developer had not shown how the public would benefit from the transmission line.

Soon after, Clean Line and the ICC said they would appeal to the state Supreme Court, and on Sept. 14 they did, joined by the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, the Natural Resources Defense Council and Wind on the Wires, a Midwestern wind energy advocacy group.

“The appeals court has created a Catch 22 barrier, with no basis in the statute, to prevent new companies from becoming public utilities and to prevent them from helping to lower energy prices in Illinois,” Clean Line Vice President Hans Detweiler said in a news release.

“We are challenging the court’s decision because it will harm Illinois consumers by reducing the amount of carbon-free energy in the marketplace,” John Moore, director of the NRDC’s Sustainable FERC Project, said in the news release.

While not part of the appeal, several other groups were named in the news release as supporting the effort, including the Citizens Utility Board of Illinois, Building Owners and Managers Association of Chicago, the American Wind Energy Association and the Laborers International Union of North America.