Project, which would touch three local counties, hinges on public utility designation
CHICAGO – The fate of the Rock Island Clean Line project is in the hands of the Illinois Supreme Court.
Rock Island Clean Line’s application to build the power line was unanimously approved by the Illinois Commerce Commission in 2014, but an Aug. 10 appellate court ruling reversed the ICC’s decision.
Houston-based Clean Line Energy appealed the reversal that was based on the argument that the project doesn’t meet the requirements of a public utility under the Illinois Public Utilities Act, thus ruling out regulatory approval and the use of eminent domain.
The energy company has faced 4 years of fierce legal opposition led by the Illinois Landowners Alliance, the Illinois Farm Bureau, and ComEd.
Clean Line Energy learned Nov. 23 of the high court’s decision to review the appellate court’s ruling. The company maintains that the project would bring low-cost clean energy, hundreds of good jobs, and revenue for communities in the project areas.
“Building infrastructure in our country is not a job for the faint of heart,” Clean Line Energy Vice President Hans Detweiler said in a news release. “We are hopeful that the court will recognize that privately funded infrastructure projects, like the Rock Island Clean Line, clearly serve a public purpose by creating jobs in the state and saving consumers hundreds of millions of dollars in energy costs.”
The company estimates that the transmission line would reduce the annual cost of wholesale electricity by $320 million in its first year of operation, and schools and other public entities would receive millions from the project during the first 20 years. Clean Line projects that 1,400 jobs would be sustained during the 3-year construction phase.
The Rock Island Clean Line, which is proposed to ship low-cost wind energy from Iowa to consumers in Illinois, is backed by several labor, consumer and environmental groups.
The state’s utilities watchdog for consumers said carbon-free power supplies are a key component of keeping electricity prices in check going forward.
“These types of projects could be good news for consumers, and we believe the Illinois Supreme Court has made the right call to review the appeals court decision,” said David Kolata, executive director of the nonprofit Citizens Utility Board.
The Illinois Landowners Alliance represents more than 300 landowners who have interests in more that 100,000 acres of land on or along the proposed transmission line route in Illinois.
The organization said it is confident that the appeals court’s unanimous decision that the project doesn’t meet the requirements of a public utility will be upheld by the state’s high court.
“We have believed from the beginning that private, start-up companies, operating outside of the established electric grid, do not have the same rights of eminent domain as the electric utility companies,” ILA Executive Director Mary Mauch said.
Mauch, of rural Mendota, said the long fight hasn’t softened the opposition’s stance on the project.
“We are more determined than ever to protect our private property rights from a precedent that would push the boundaries of eminent domain,” he said.
Clean Line Energy said the high court’s decision could come down as early as May.
The project route was to begin in Iowa’s O’Brien County, enter Illinois between Cordova and Port Byron, continue through Whiteside County just southwest of Erie, through the entire north edge of Bureau County, and end in Grundy County.
The Illinois Supreme Court process should be similar to the appellate court proceedings. Briefs from Rock Island Clean Line and other groups involved in the appeal are due Dec. 28. The opposition's briefs are due 35 days later. Both sides expect oral arguments to be scheduled about 3 months after all briefs are filed. An opinion can be expected in 3 to 4 months, but the appellate court's reversal took much longer.