A state appeals court has consolidated eight legal challenges to the planned route for a high-voltage Ameren transmission line that would carry power across central Illinois, including an area in southern Sangamon County.
At issue is a request by attorneys for property owners across the region that the Illinois Commerce Commission reconsider the route for the Illinois Rivers Project.
In two separate rulings, the ICC approved Ameren Transmission Co. of Illinois plans for a nearly 400-mile, 345,000-volt transmission line that would carry electricity from the Illinois border near Quincy to the Indiana border near Terre Haute.
A section of the line from Meredosia in Morgan County to Pana in Christian County would pass near Pawnee, just southeast of Springfield.
The $1 billion transmission line is needed to improve reliability to meet long-term power demand, according to Ameren Transmission.
More than 400 public comments on the proposed route were filed at the ICC. Opponents argued the high-voltage line – power lines typically range from 138,000 to 345,000 volts – would hurt property values, interfere with farming and create environmental hazards.
Springfield attorney Edward McNamara, who represents the Morgan, Sangamon and Scott Counties Land Preservation Group, said a route favored by opponents would be shorter and less expensive than the route the ICC approved.
Following an existing power line corridor, according to opponents, would be 18 miles shorter and would save approximately $36.8 million. However, the ICC concluded the route as approved would be least expensive when “all costs and benefits are taken into account.”
The ICC agreed to rehear the case but stood by its original decision with slight changes in February. The case then went to the appellate court. An attorney for the ICC asked last week that the commission have until July 18 to update the legal record based on the sheer volume of documents.
“There are 2,713 separate electronic items on the commission e-docket,” said special assistant attorney general James Weging. “Some of the items may be one page long, and others may run a couple of hundred pages.”
The Illinois Rivers power line would be part of a larger Midwest network that would carry electricity from wind farms in the West. Consumers in states crossed by the transmission line, including Illinois, would share the cost.
Ameren Transmission spokesman Leigh Morris said the company has continued design work, as well as easement and property acquisition, pending the outcome of the court case.
“Right now, we don’t see any reason the project won’t proceed as originally anticipated,” Morris said, “with the entire process completed by the fourth quarter of 2019.”
ICC spokeswoman Beth Bosch said the appellate court could either uphold the commission decision on the proposed route or send the case back for further consideration.
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