Court upholds finding on ATXI’s 345-kV Illinois Rivers project

The Illinois Appellate Court for the Fourth District on Jan. 14 affirmed its previous ruling that upheld the Illinois Commerce Commision’s (ICC) approval of Ameren Transmission Company of Illinois’ (ATXI) $1.1bn Illinois Rivers Project, which is under construction.

The appeals court’s ruling was posted in the ICC docket for the Illinois Rivers Project (12-0598).

“It is the decision of this court that the order on appeal be affirmed and stand in full force and effect,” the court said.

The ruling in reference was a July 20, 2015, decision from the same court, which rejected appeals from property owners about the ICC approval and route selection for the Illinois Rivers Project. 

The 345-kV Illinois Rivers Project, which received final approval by the ICC in 2014, will run from Palmyra, Mo., crossing the Mississippi River at Quincy, Ill., and extend east past the Illinois towns of Meredosia, Pawnee, Pana, Mt. Zion and Kansas, ending at Sugar Creek, Ind. Additional lines will run from Meredosia to Ipava, Ill., and between the Sidney and Rising substations near Champaign, Ill., according to ATXI, which is a subsidiary of Ameren (NYSE:AEE).

The project will span about 370 miles and different segments will be placed in service in phases, with the earliest in-service date expected in 2016, including the Quincy-to-Meredosia segment, ATXI said in September 2015.

As TransmissionHub reported, the Missouri Public Service Commission in June 2015 approved ATXI’s application to build a seven-mile segment of the Illinois Rivers Project in Missouri.

In the July 20, 2015, decision, the appeals court addressed challenges from four different groups of property owners, mainly about the route chosen but also about the regulatory process following a legislative change in 2010. That change to the Public Utilities Act requires the ICC – when a utility applies for a certificate using an expedited procedure – to issue a decision granting or denying a certificate within 150 days, although the ICC can extend that deadline by another 75 days, the court noted.

The groups that challenged the ICC approval were the Adams County Property Owners (ACPO), the Edgar County Citizens are Entitled to Due Process, the Morgan, Sangamon and Scott Counties Land Preservation Group (MSSCLPG) and the Macon County Property Owners.

ACPO claimed that the ICC erred by selecting a hybrid route over ACPO’s proposed Alternative Route 1, and it challenged the expedited procedure under which ATXI filed its application for a certificate. The size of the project and the number of parties involved should have required ATXI to not seek an expedited procedure, which violated property owners’ due process, and the ICC should have dismissed the application ACPO asserted.

Addressing the latter element first, the court noted that the ICC was critical of ATXI invoking the expedited procedure for such a large project, but it said the Public Utilities Act provides a utility discretion on seeking an expedited procedure, setting no limits based on the size of a project. Any concern about a less-than-optimal outcome from an expedited procedure for a complex project “is a matter for the legislature to address and not a basis upon which the commission could deny ATXI’s petition,” the court said.

In selecting the hybrid route for the segment challenged by ACPO, the ICC found that while the ACPO Alternative Route 1 was slightly shorter and less expensive, it presented reliability, operational and maintenance concerns and it required more tree clearing, the court related. The evidence in the case shows that the ICC weighed all factors in making its route selection, and the ICC “is entitled to great deference with respect to its factual findings,” the court said.

Similar conclusions were reached regarding the challenges of the other groups, including that property owners were not given sufficient notice about the project or alternatives to be considered.

“It appears undisputed that ATXI complied with the notice requirements” by providing notice of public meetings and the utility’s application for a certificate, the court said.

MSSCLPG argued that the evidence favored its preferred route over the route selected by the ICC for the Meredosia–Pawnee segment of the project, and while there is evidence supporting the preferred route of MSSCLPG, “we cannot say the commission erred in selecting a different route,” the court said.

“The commission’s decision as to the Meredosia-Pawnee segment of the project was supported by the record,” according to the decision. “An opposite conclusion from that of the commission is not clearly evident and its decision was not against the manifest weight of the evidence.”