ICC judges propose approval for Illinois Rivers project

Two administrative law judges (ALJs) are proposing that the Illinois Commerce Commission (ICC) approve portions of Ameren Transmission’s Illinois Rivers project through central Illinois that were deferred when the ICC issued its Aug. 20, 2013, order approving the majority of the project’s route. (Docket No. 12-0598).

The recommendations are contained in a proposed Second Order on Rehearing that was delivered to the affected parties late in the day Jan. 17 and made publicly available on Jan. 21 following the three-day Martin Luther King, Jr. Day weekend.

In its Aug. 20 decision, the ICC declined to adopt a route for the segments connecting the Illinois cities of Pawnee and Pana and Pana and the village of Mt. Zion, because it was not convinced that a connection at Pana was appropriate. Rather than divert the transmission line south from Pawnee to Pana and then north to Mt. Zion, ICC staff suggested that a more direct link between Pawnee and Mt. Zion via Kincaid be considered.

In its original order, the ICC cited an “inadequate time frame to consider evidence on certain portions of the proposed transmission project.” The original order also deferred decisions on several new or upgraded substations to which the deferred line segments would connect.

The proposed 90-page second order addresses all of the previously unresolved issues.

Line routes approved

“The commission has considered the arguments on this matter and, despite some parties’ assertions, does not consider this an easy question to resolve,” the ALJs wrote in the proposed order, citing concerns about cost, environmental impacts, public safety and electric reliability.

Evidence reviewed by the commission since its August decision caused the ALJs who drafted the proposed second order to agree with Ameren Transmission’s original proposals regarding line routes. The evidence available, they wrote, supports a finding that the company’s original proposal for Pawnee-Pana and Pana-Mt. Zion segments is preferable to the alternative of segments connecting Pawnee to Kincaid and Kincaid to Mt. Zion.

Cost was among the factors considered. According to Ameren Transmission, the “all in” cost of the Pana connection to Illinois customers will be approximately $18m, which includes the transmission lines from Pawnee to Pana to Mt. Zion and relocation of the Pana substation. By contrast, the Kincaid connection would cost at least $44m, a figure which Ameren emphasized does not include any upgrades, repairs, or enhancements that could be identified for coordination among the Midcontinent ISO (MISO), PJM Interconnection (PJM), Ameren Transmission, Ameren Illinois and Commonwealth Edison (ComEd).

The proposed decision recommends the alignment identified as Alternate Route 2 for the Pawnee to Pana segment, with a minor modification to keep the line farther from the home of one of the property owners along the route.

For the Pana to Mt. Zion segment, the proposed order would approve the route stipulated in the original order, with a slight adjustment to the west end of the route to accommodate the relocation of the Mt. Zion substation.

The proposed decision also supports the stipulated route supported by Ameren Transmission for the Meredosia to Pawnee segment as approved in the original decision. The proposed order rebuffs attempts to substitute a different routing brought in a request for rehearing.

While some intervenors had proposed siting that 345-kV segment next to an existing 138-kV transmission line, Ameren Transmission pointed to storms and tornados as recently as November 2013, which damaged power lines and toppled support towers, and made the case that co-locating the two lines would present operational issues in the event of a major storm. The commission selected the “longer, more expensive route, which involves more landowners; but avoids the chance of a large storm taking out two nearby transmission lines,” according to the proposed order.

Substations approved

The proposed order also moves the location of the proposed Mt. Zion substation from the location originally proposed to a new location “only a few miles south of Mt. Zion,” to a site that Ameren Transmission agreed is acceptable.

The proposed order also approves Ameren Transmission’s proposed substations at Kansas, Ill., Sidney, Rising and Ipava, all in Illinois. None of the substations was approved in the Aug. 20 order.

For its part, Ameren Transmission is still reviewing the order, a communications consultant to the company told TransmissionHub Jan. 21.

The ICC will consider the proposed order at its meeting scheduled for Feb. 20, according to the order. At that time, commission members can approve or reject the order in its entirety, or modify portions of the order before passing it, an ICC spokesperson said.

As proposed, the subsidiary of Ameren (NYSE:AEE), will construct, operate and maintain the 375-mile, 345-kV transmission line, and build or expand nine substations along the route to ensure reliability of the electric transmission system and to bring in additional wind energy from the west. The estimated $1.1bn cost of constructing the transmission line will be shared by all customers living within the MISO region rather than being borne by Ameren’s customers in Illinois alone.