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Regulators stop review of Rock Island Clean Line

State regulators have suspended a review of a proposed $2 billion interstate electric transmission line at the request of developers.

Backers of the proposed Rock Island Clean Line, a subsidiary of Houston-based Clean Line Energy Partners, asked the Iowa Utilities Board to put a hold on the technical review as the company determines the process for moving the project forward in Iowa, a Clean Line spokeswoman said Thursday.

“The regulatory process in Iowa is unique because companies are required to complete right-of-way acquisition up front before the IUB has determined whether the project is in the public interest,” spokeswoman Sarah Bray said.

The Iowa Utilities Board has granted the request and is not actively reviewing the franchise petition, which was filed in November 2014.

Donald Tormey, spokesman for the IUB, said the project has been on hold for some time. The company requested the pause in review in May or June, but there is not a formal process to do so, so there was no official notice needed or given by the IUB, he said.

The 500-mile line would transmit 3,500 megawatts of wind energy from wind farms in northwest Iowa to customers in Illinois. The project calls for erecting towers to carry high-voltage overhead lines diagonally across the state through 1,540 parcels of land in 16 Iowa counties, including Linn.

In February, the board denied the company’s motion to hold separate hearings on the electric franchise and eminent domain issues, saying it would benefit the company because it could delay certain processes, such as surveying land it hasn’t yet received easements for, but would negatively affect many others, particularly landowners.

Bray said Thursday the company would have to invest tens of millions of dollars to acquire easement rights with no guarantees regulators will approve the project.

“For Rock Island, initial negotiations with landowners across Iowa have been very positive,” Bray said. “However, given the unique regulatory structure in Iowa, we are currently assessing ways to move the project forward and continue easement negotiations without incurring significant financial and regulatory risk.”

The project has the other two major approvals needed from the Illinois Commerce Commission and Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, Bray said. The group would have to file a separate request in Illinois if it wishes to use eminent domain, but it hopes land can be secured through voluntary easements.

Carolyn Sheridan, board president of Preservation of Rural Iowa Alliance, which opposes the project on behalf of landowners, said while it is good news the project is stalled, it is a concern that landowners don’t know what is going to happen as the company re-evaluates.