Clean Line Energy: Rock Island route avoids NEPA process

The proposed route for Clean Line Energy‘s Rock Island project does not cross federal land and does not need to go through the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) environmental review process, Jimmy Glotfelty, co-founder and executive vice president of external affairs, told TransmissionHub Oct. 11.

The NEPA process is only triggered if a federal agency has to make a decision on the project, Glotfelty said.

The Army Corps of Engineers, however, will conduct an analysis, given that the proposed route crosses navigable rivers, he said.

The $2bn project is proposed as a 600-kV, 500-mile HVDC transmission line that would be capable of delivering 3,500 MW of power from renewable energy projects located in northwestern Iowa, Nebraska, South Dakota and Minnesota to load centers east of the Mississippi River.

As proposed, Rock Island would originate at a converter station in O’Brien County, Iowa, traverse Iowa, cross the Mississippi River near Princeton, Iowa, enter Illinois south of Cordova, Ill., traverse Illinois for approximately 121 miles, and interconnect with PJM Interconnection’s extra high voltage (EHV) transmission system at the Collins substation in Grundy County, Ill., in which the company is investing $300m. The line would terminate at a converter station to be located in Channahon, Ill.

The company on Oct. 10 filed with the Illinois Commerce Commission (ICC) its application for a certificate of public convenience and necessity (CPCN), as well as its request to operate as a public utility in the state.

Clean Line originally filed for utility status in Illinois “a couple” of years ago, but the ICC asked that the company withdraw that application and resubmit it together with its application for a CPCN, Glotfelty said. The original application did not get far along in the regulatory process, according to Cary Kottler, a director for Clean Line in charge of the development of Rock Island.

“We filed it and then had a number of conversations with commission staff,” Kottler said. “Through the course of those discussions, we determined we should really just hold the filing in abeyance and then come back when we had a route identified.”

The company has initiated the process of obtaining easements for the project, but Kottler said that majority of land acquisition will not ramp up until the project is farther along in the regulatory process.

Clean Line plans to file for route approval in Iowa in 2013, after the routing process in Illinois is complete, Kottler said. The company does not need public utility status in Iowa, according to state law.

“There you need an electric transmission franchise,” Kottler said. “We need a route before we can apply for that. We’ll push the routing process in Illinois first, then we have some route alternatives in Iowa and after we move ahead in Illinois then next year we’ll identify that single proposed route in Iowa and file that route through the franchise process.”

There have been numerous media reports on the opposition to Rock Island, but Glotfelty said that was to be expected.

“Building long, linear infrastructure is never easy,” he said. “We will find opposition on every one of our projects at some point in time, and that’s why we have a very transparent and open process that we begin very early, before we file documents.”

Kottler said that much of the opposition is located locally, in a “couple of spots where the route is proposed to go through.” He and Glotfelty said the project has widespread support from landowners, environmental groups, as well as the Illinois governor.

“I think we have a very compelling case that the line brings very measurable benefits to Illinois, both consumer benefits for reduced power prices,” Kottler said. “As a result of this line delivering power to Illinois, consumers should see $300m in savings in the first year of operation.”

Other project updates

For its Grain Belt project, Clean Line plans to file for utility status later this year in Indiana and Missouri. Illinois will be the last state in which the company will file.

For the Plains & Eastern project, the company expects to initiate the NEPA process in 4Q12. Clean Line on Sept. 19 signed a participation agreement with the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), under Section 1222 of the Energy Policy Act of 2005.

No regulatory filings will be made for Centennial West this year.

“There are a lot of things going on in the West because of [FERC Order 1000 compliance] on interregional planning, so we’ve spent the bulk of our time on that for Centennial West,” Glotfelty said. “We still are active on locating the best route, on working with local folks to inform them of the project in Arizona, New Mexico and California. It’s a longer route which incorporates a lot more folks.”

About Rosy Lum 525 Articles
Rosy Lum, Analyst for TransmissionHub, has been covering the U.S. energy industry since 2007. She began her career in energy journalism at SNL Financial, for which she established a New York news desk. She covered topics ranging from energy finance and renewable policies and incentives, to master limited partnerships and ETFs. Thereafter, she honed her energy and utility focus at the Financial Times' dealReporter, where she covered and broke oil and gas and utility mergers and acquisitions.