Illinois regulators say other options may exist for rejected portion of Illinois Rivers project

The Illinois Commerce Commission’s (ICC) Aug. 20 denial of a portion of Ameren Transmission Company’s proposed Illinois Rivers transmission project centers on what the commission deemed to be inadequate consideration given to an existing alternative to the proposed segment of the project from Pawnee to Pana in Illinois (Docket No. 12-0598).

In the final order on the petition filed by Ameren Transmission, a subsidiary of Ameren (NYSE:AEE), the commission noted that staff agreed with Ameren Transmission’s assessment that, of the three routes considered for the segment, Alternative Route 2 would be the preferable alignment. It was the shortest, at 32.3 miles; had the lowest estimated cost, at $65m; and would affect the fewest landowners, at 127.

However, ICC staff noted that 345-kV transmission lines already connect Pawnee to Kincaid and Kincaid to Pana, and that it was not apparent to staff that Ameren Transmission needs to construct the Pawnee-Pana segment.

“A Kincaid-Mt. Zion segment for the Illinois Rivers Project instead of [the] proposed Pawnee-Pana-Mt. Zion segments could provide the same benefit to the Decatur [Ill.], area as [Ameren Transmission’s] proposal, but at a significantly lower cost due to the shorter distance,” the commission said in the order.

Further, the order noted that commission staff suggested that neither the company nor the Midcontinent ISO (MISO) “consider[ed] whether it would be preferable to have a line from Kincaid to Mt. Zion, which staff believes might obviate the need for the Pawnee to Pana segment.”

In testimony, the company called that an “incorrect premise.”

Ameren Transmission asserted that, through MISO’s multi-value project (MVP) process, the RTO examined numerous system configurations, and said it was “reasonable to conclude that a Kincaid – Mt. Zion alternative did not emerge as a superior option.”

The ICC did not accept the company’s reasoning, and said it was “surprising that [Ameren Transmission] would argue that Kincaid to Mt. Zion … must have been considered and rejected because it was not chosen,” absent any presented evidence that it had been considered and rejected.

In the order, the commission acknowledged that Ameren Transmission submitted that the Kincaid facilities’ configuration presents operational and reliability concerns that would impact any decision to connect the line at that site.

Either the company or intervenors in the matter can seek a rehearing of portions of the order within 30 days of the Aug. 20 order. The commission would then have 20 days to respond. The granting of rehearing would start a 150-day clock, which would allow time for assembling and filing the necessary documentation, including testimony, rebuttals, briefs, other related items and a proposed order.

Ameren Transmission said consideration of the contested segment in a separate docket could place the 2016 in-service dates at risk for other portions of the project, “which in turn could jeopardize the timely achievement of the reliability and other benefits of the project.”

Ameren Transmission also said that consideration of any portion in a separate docket could disrupt the sequencing of the construction of the project line segments, noting that MISO and the company have determined the preferred construction sequence to minimize the disruption of the transmission system during construction and commissioning of the project.

While acknowledging those concerns, the commission’s ruling arguably placed part of the blame on the company.

“While [Ameren Transmission] chose to file this proceeding under the [state’s] expedited process … it appears to the commission that one of the very unfortunate consequences of that filing is insufficient time to consider various alternative routes,” the ICC said.

In its Aug. 20 action, the ICC approved proposed routes for other portions of the project that extend from Quincy, Ill., on the Mississippi River to Pawnee, south of Springfield, and from Mt. Zion southeast of Decatur to Terre Haute on the Illinois/Indiana border. Another section runs from Meredosia to Ipava in Illinois. A separate line would run from Rising to Sidney in Champaign County.

Because it is designated a multi-value project, the estimated $1.1bn cost will be shared by all customers living within the MISO region rather than being borne by Ameren’s customers in Illinois alone.