Ill. high court to hear Clean Line transmission dispute

Source: Jeffrey Tomich, E&E News reporter • Posted: Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Illinois’ high court will hear a long-running dispute over plans for a $2 billion high-voltage transmission line to carry wind energy from the Great Plains to the eastern U.S. grid.

The state Supreme Court agreed last week to take the case after a request by Houston-based Clean Line Energy Partners, a merchant transmission developer that is working to build the Rock Island Clean Line project from northwest Iowa to the PJM Interconnection LLC.

Clean Line won state regulators’ approval for the Illinois portion of the 500-mile project in 2014 (EnergyWire, Sept. 30, 2014). But landowner opponents and Comonwealth Edison (ComEd), the Chicago-based utility affiliate of Exelon Corp., convinced an appeals court to reverse the decision.

In August, Illinois’ 3rd District Appellate Court unanimously ruled that the Illinois Commerce Commission had erred when it granted the certificate needed to build the line because Clean Line didn’t have public utility status under state law.

Clean Line, along with labor and wind energy advocates, petitioned the Illinois Supreme Court to hear the case. A decision could come next spring, the company said in a statement.

“We are hopeful that the court will recognize that privately funded infrastructure projects, like the Rock Island Clean Line, clearly serve a public purpose by creating jobs in the state and saving consumers hundreds of millions of dollars in energy costs,” said Hans Detweiler, a Clean Line vice president.

The Illinois Farm Bureau, the Illinois Landowners Alliance and ComEd had urged the court to deny petitions for appeal.

The Farm Bureau and Landowners Alliance said they intervened because of the threat of eminent domain, they said in a petition. Even though the 2014 Illinois Commerce Commission order granting Clean Line utility status didn’t include eminent domain authority, the groups believe the company will return to the commission for that purpose.

In a Facebook post, a group of project opponents known as Block Rock Island “Clean” Line acknowledged the state Supreme Court’s decision to hear the case and vowed to continue their challenge.

“Know that we are more determined and prepared than ever,” the post said.

The Rock Island project is one of three long-haul high-voltage transmission projects being developed by Clean Line to move thousands of megawatts of wind energy from Plains states to more densely populated cities in the East.

The Illinois Supreme Court decision could affect not only the Rock Island line, but also Clean Line’s Grain Belt Express project, a 780-mile high-voltage line that would originate in southwest Kansas and connect to the PJM grid at a point near the Illinois-Indiana border.

Missouri utility regulators denied a certificate for the $2.2 billion Grain Belt project last year. In August, Clean Line refiled its application with the Missouri Public Service Commission after agreeing on a contract with a public power agency representing dozens of Missouri municipal utilities to sell 225 megawatts of long-term transmission service (EnergyWire, Nov. 8).