Clean Line says federal partnership still an option for Midwest projects

Source: By Karen Uhlenhuth, Energy News Network • Posted: Friday, March 30, 2018

The developer dissolved a federal partnership last week that would have streamlined its path across Arkansas.

The developer of a planned long-distance, high-voltage transmission line connecting Oklahoma to Tennessee says the dissolving of a federal partnership last week won’t affect two similar projects in the Midwest.

“We don’t see any implications for our other projects,” Clean Line Energy Partners spokeswoman Sarah Bray said in an email.

The company said it mutually ended a partnership with the U.S. Department of Energy that would have allowed it to use federal eminent domain instead of navigating the patchwork of state and local regulations along the route. The project is not dead, but will proceed more slowly now, Bray said.

Several factors contributed to the split, Bray said, but importantly it does not prevent the company from pursuing a similar partnership on its other lines, the Rock Island and Grain Belt Express lines, which would carry wind energy east from western Iowa and Kansas, respectively.

The Plains & Eastern project, which aims to deliver 4,000 megawatts of wind power from western Oklahoma across Arkansas and into Tennessee, ran into major resistance from property owners in its path. In December, the company sold its assets in Oklahoma to NextEra, which left Clean Line seeking permission to run the line through Arkansas.

The Rock Island and Grain Belt Express lines continue to progress on their own troubled trajectories.

The fate of the Grain Belt Express is currently before the Missouri Supreme Court. The 780-mile line would connect Kansas wind farms to customers in Missouri, Illinois and Indiana. At issue is a ruling by the Missouri Public Service Commission that a decision in a different transmission case meant that regulators could not sign off on the Grain Belt because not all of the counties along the route had given their consent. Missouri Court of Appeals Judge Lisa Page said that state regulators made a mistake in that ruling.

In Illinois, an appellate court ruling two weeks ago caused another setback for the Grain Belt Express. In a case brought by landowners along the route and the legal arm of the state’s Farm Bureau, the court ruled that the Illinois Commerce Commission erred when it granted expedited review. The court said the company, which doesn’t own assets in Illinois, does not therefore meet the state’s definition of a utility. The court reversed regulators’ decision, leaving Clean Line to prove that it is, in fact, a utility under Illinois law.

Clean Line’s other Midwestern project, the Rock Island line, would move wind energy from western Iowa into Illinois. It is effectively on hold while the company deals with the Grain Belt. Last September, the Illinois Supreme Court upheld a ruling by the Illinois Appellate Court that Clean Line does not meet the state’s definition of “utility,” and therefore cannot be granted permission to build a transmission line. The company has withdrawn its application in Iowa, opting to wait for the resolution of litigation in Illinois.

While Clean Line continues to encounter obstacles, Bray said the company believes the federal tool known as Section 1222 of the Energy Policy Act remains an option. It could give Clean Line or another utility the power to use eminent domain to get control over land along the proposed route.

“The cancellation of the participation agreement does not affect the ability to use Section 1222 by Clean Line or other companies,” Bray wrote. “In fact, in December of 2017 the United States District Court in the Eastern District of Arkansas issued an order to uphold the use of Section 1222… for the Plains & Eastern Clean Line. This critical decision confirmed the strong legal basis for Clean Line’s use of Section 1222 and keeps the door open for other other projects to use this provision, as well.”