Massive wind power transmission line gains Illinois approval

Source: By Tony Reid, The Daily Pantagraph • Posted: Monday, November 16, 2015

SPRINGFIELD — The Illinois portion of a $2 billion wind power transmission line project has been approved by state regulators, but not by much.

The Illinois Commerce Commission last week voted 3-2 to approve the more than 200-mile portion of the 780-mile-long “Grain Belt Express” line that will run through nine Illinois counties.

ICC Chairman Brien Sheahan and commissioners Sherina Maye Edwards and John Rosales voted in favor, while commissioners Ann McCabe and Miguel del Valle voted against.

The line, used to access wind power harnessed in Kansas, has generated strong opinions. Sentiment at public meetings in the region has often been hostile, especially from affected landowners. But business, labor unions and consumer advocacy groups have come out strongly in favor of the project, billed as funneling $700 million of investment into Illinois and creating 1,500 jobs.

The line will pass through Pike, Scott, Greene, Macoupin, Montgomery, Christian, Shelby, Cumberland and Clark counties. Counties where the line crosses will be offered compensation worth $7,000 a mile, payable for 20 years. In the case of Shelby County, for example, the annual fee for 40 miles of line would add up to $280,000.

The company building the line, Texas-based Clean Line Energy Partners, claims wind energy sources the Grain Belt Express will tap can cut Illinois wholesale power prices by $750 million in its first five years of operation.

“The ICC approval brings the Grain Belt Express Clean Line one step closer to dramatically increasing the low-cost wind energy available to customers in Missouri and Illinois,” said Michael Skelly, president of Clean Line Energy.

Construction is due to start in 2017, and power is scheduled to be flowing by 2019.

But Grain Belt Express isn’t ready to leave the station just yet.

The Illinois approval is now added to regulatory approvals from Kansas and Indiana, but a critical last hurdle — the portion of the route crossing Missouri before it hits Illinois — is in limbo.

Missouri regulators have turned down one proposed route, and Clean Energy is now getting ready to focus its energies on having another crack at winning approval in the Show-Me state next year.

“We’re still evaluating all the options we have to get the needed approval in Missouri,” said Amy Kurt, a Clean Line manager. “And we’ll have to make a decision on how to move forward.”

Kurt said Missouri obviously is make or break for the project, but Clean Line remained confident the merits of the Grain Belt Express will win over hearts and minds. “We think this project is too important to Missouri, too important to Illinois, to not pursue,” she said, adding the “approval in Illinois is a very positive step and we’re looking forward to applying this momentum as we move forward in Missouri.”