Clean Line and its backers appeal Rock Island case to Illinois Supreme Court

An affiliate of Clean Line Energy Partners and supporters of a 500-mile wind energy transmission line have asked the Illinois Supreme Court to overturn a 2015 lower court ruling that went against the Rock Island Clean Line.

The Rock Island Clean Line, first proposed in 2010, won unanimous approval from the Illinois Commerce Commission (ICC) in November 2014. The Third District Appellate Court of Illinois reversed the ICC’s approval of Rock Island Clean Line on Aug. 10.

Rock Island Clean Line LLC cites opposition from Commonwealth Edison, which is an Exelon (NYSE:EXC) company, and various landowners groups in a case that resulted in the Third District Appellate Court reversing the ICC’s approval of the certificate of public convenience and necessity (CPCN).

On Sept. 14, the ICC, joined by Rock Island Clean Line, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW), the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), and Wind on the Wires asked the Illinois Supreme Court to take up the case.

The Rock Island Clean Line would enable low-cost electricity from new wind projects in northwest Iowa, which would otherwise be unable to access the Illinois electricity markets, to compete to serve customer load in Illinois. The project would originate at a converter station in Iowa and extend to a converter station in Grundy County, Illinois.

The Appellate Court overrode the ICC’s interpretation and application of the Public Utilities Act (PUA) to erroneously hold that a CPCN applicant must already own or control utility assets in Illinois and have identified Illinois customers for the ICC to have authority to grant it a CPCN, Clean Line says.

Clean Line also says that Rock Island Clean Line does actually own or control certain property that would be used in the project.

Clean Line and its backers say that the lower court failed to give deference to the ICC’s interpretation and application of the PUA.

The court “imposed a construction of the PUA that is internally contradictory and inherently absurd; disregarded Rock Island’s comprehensive obligations under federal requirements to offer transmission service to the public; and ignored or misapplied the well-established standard of review mandating affirmance of ICC findings if based on substantial evidence,” the parties say in their appeal.

The appeals court ruling, if not reversed, would result in less competition in electricity markets, fewer choices and higher prices for electricity consumers, and the failure to develop and utilize the nation’s best, most cost effective renewable resources, the pro-Clean Line parties argue.

The project will deliver 15 million MWh of electricity annually into Illinois, approximately equal to the aggregate amount used by about 1.4 million homes, according to the Sept. 14 legal filing.

The project should also substantially decrease the price of renewable energy credits (RECs) in Illinois and the PJM region, according to the filing. The project should also create about 1,450 construction jobs, according to the filing.

"The court’s ruling unnecessarily interferes with vital interstate transmission projects,” said Lonnie R. Stephenson, IBEW International President. “We have filed a request to ask the Illinois Supreme Court to review the Rock Island Clean Line case, because our workers cannot afford to have Illinois be a roadblock to nationally significant projects."

Rock Island says the project would reduce electricity costs in Illinois by $320m in the first year of the operation of the project, with additional reductions in future years. Rock Island also said the project would support 1,450 jobs in Illinois during the three-year construction phase.

“The appeals court made basic errors in its decision that we hope the Illinois Supreme Court will identify,” said Hans Detweiler, Vice President of Clean Line Energy. “The appeals court has created a Catch 22 barrier, with no basis in the statute, to prevent new companies from becoming public utilities and to prevent them from helping to lower energy prices in Illinois. The Rock Island project would deliver more than three times the annual energy of the Hoover Dam, from renewable resources, while saving Illinois consumers hundreds of millions of dollars.”

The Rock Island Clean Line is a $600m infrastructure investment in Illinois that would deliver enough clean wind energy to Illinois to power approximately 1.4 million homes annually.

The name of the project comes from the Rock Island Railroad, which stretches across the entire state of Iowa, through the city of Rock Island and into Illinois.

About Wayne Barber 4201 Articles
Wayne Barber, Chief Analyst for the GenerationHub, has been covering power generation, energy and natural resources issues at national publications for more than 20 years. Prior to joining PennWell he was editor of Generation Markets Week at SNL Financial for nine years. He has also worked as a business journalist at both McGraw-Hill and Financial Times Energy. Wayne also worked as a newspaper reporter for several years. During his career has visited nuclear reactors and coal mines as well as coal and natural gas power plants. Wayne can be reached at wayneb@pennwell.com.