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Appellate court deals Rock Island Clean Line a blow

Rock Island Clean Line, the firm wanting to build a high-voltage transmission line through several states, including Illinois, has been dealt a setback.

The Third District Appellate Court in Ottawa released a ruling this week reversing the Illinois Commerce Commission’s decision to grant the firm a “certificate of public convenience and necessity” to build the 121-mile stretch of line through north central Illinois.

The matter was remanded to the ICC with direction to enter an order consistent with the decision.

The court challenge to the ICC ruling came from the Illinois Landowners Alliance.

The ruling will gratify some who were concerned about carrying on with center-pivot irrigation systems in the vicinity of the transmission lines, as well as those concerned about RICL eventually requesting eminent domain to obtain needed right-of-way.

According to the court document, the line’s total capacity would be up to 4,000 megawatts, enough for 15 million megawatts per year or enough to power 1.4 million homes. It would end at a Commonwealth Edison substation in Grundy County.

The power would come from production sources, primarily wind energy, in Iowa, Minnesota South Dakota and Nebraska.

Clean Line claimed Illinois electric customers would see no rate assessments because of the project, but the appellate ruling quotes a ICC staff economist saying that if the project failed, the firm might return to the ICC to recoup costs and it could end up costing ratepayers.

In the ruling, the Ottawa court stated Rock Island Clean Line isn’t a utility in that it doesn’t have assets in Illinois nor agreements for service with Illinois generators of renewable energy. Clean Line admitted wind generators in its models are based on predictions and don’t yet exist. They do have $95 million in commitments towards an estimated project cost of $1.8 billion.

The court ruling noted an ICC staff report that stated the firm was asking the commission to grant it the certificate of public convenience and necessity “for the purposes of condemning private property to build its line.”

The court agrees with the ICC that firms could seek public utility status at the same time they apply for “certificate of public convenience and necessity,” but they go on to say the issue is whether the status was properly conferred based on the ICC decision that Rock Island Clean Line was a public utility.

“We conclude that it was not,” states the ruling.