A 500-mile transmission line designed to move wind power from Iowa to Grundy County, Ill. can move forward, Illinois regulators decided Tuesday.
The Illinois Commerce Commission voted 5-0 to approve the controversial project, called “Rock Island Clean Line,” the first merchant-owned transmission line to gain state approval. The state agency granted the company permission to “construct, operate and maintain” the electric transmission line.
The project has the potential to dramatically cut electricity prices in Illinois and help the state meet its goals of deriving 25 percent of its energy from renewable sources such as wind and solar by 2025.
Landowners and ComEd have argued that the project’s developer, Clean Line Energy Partners, is not a utility and therefore should not be building electric transmission lines. The opponents also have said that the line is not needed to flow power to homes and that the company’s business model is flawed.
Clean Line’s biggest investor is National Grid, which invested $40 million in 2013. National Grid, one of the nation’s largest investor-owned energy companies, owns transmission lines in the U.S. and United Kingdom.
At Tuesday’s meeting the ICC added what they called “protections” for landowners and ratepayers. The agency said if the company tries to go to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to gain funding from ratepayers that the project would then be declared null and void. The project is being billed as 100 percent investor backed.
Clean Line Energy Partners has two $2 billion transmission lines in the works that would slice through Illinois: Rock Island Clean Line across the top of the state, and Grain Belt Express downstate, each shipping enough electricity to power 1.4 million homes annually.
Importing that much cheap wind power has the potential to dramatically cut electricity prices in Illinois and help the state meet its goals of deriving 25 percent of its energy from renewable sources such as wind and solar by 2025.
But driving down electricity costs hurts other power generators in the state, namely, Chicago-based Exelon Corp., the parent company of ComEd. Exelon operates nuclear generating plants which have been financially hurt by lower electric prices from wind turbines.
Opponents to the projects are concerned that Clean Line will take land using the powers of eminent domain and that the lines will be used to bring in other forms of power that are not generated by the wind.
The Rock Island project is still in the early stages and must piece together land parcels from hundreds of landowners across the state in order to build the 150-foot tall direct current lines. It also needs approvals in Iowa.
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