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Rock Island Clean Line petitions Illinois Supreme Court over wind energy project

MORRIS – An energy development company is seeking to reverse an appellate court decision that put in limbo its proposed transmission project to move wind energy from northwest Iowa to Grundy County.

The Rock Island Clean Line project was touted by a Clean Line Energy official in a news release issued Wednesday as one that would “deliver more than three times the annual energy of the Hoover Dam,” and save Illinois consumers millions.

The project has faced opposition from the Illinois Landowners Alliance, which is concerned about its risks to private property rights and the public utility status of Rock Island Clean Line, a subsidiary of Texas-based Clean Line Energy.

A petition from the alliance, along with the Illinois Agricultural Association and ComEd, was successful Aug. 10 when the Illinois 3rd District Appellate Court reversed an Illinois Commerce Commission order from 2014 allowing Rock Island Clean Line to operate as a public utility and move forward with its project.

Attorneys for Rock Island Clean Line filed an appeal Wednesday with the Illinois Supreme Court seeking a reversal of that decision.

The Illinois Commerce Commission, International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers and several other groups were listed as appellees along with Rock Island Clean Line in the court filing.

Hans Detweiler, Clean Line Energy vice president, said in a news release that the appellate court made “basic errors in its decision that we hope the Illinois Supreme Court will identify.”

“The appeals court has created a catch-22 barrier, with no basis in the statute, to prevent new companies from becoming public utilities and to prevent them from helping to lower energy prices in Illinois,” he said.

Mary Mauch, Block RICL co-founder and Illinois Landowners Alliance executive director, said in an email that Rock Island Clean Line’s appeal doesn’t automatically mean the state supreme court will choose to hear the case, and that the appellate court decision was unanimous.

“However, we’re not surprised, and we’re ready,” Mauch said.

The appellate court said in its Aug. 10 opinion that Rock Island Clean Line failed to attain public utility status and that the Illinois Commerce Commission lacked authority to issue a certificate of public convenience and necessity for the project in Illinois.

The court opinion also said that the Rock Island plan does not devote assets for public use in Illinois without discrimination.

“The anchor tenants, who will use a majority of Rock Island’s transmission capacity, are wind generators in the resource area of northwest Iowa, South Dakota, Nebraska and Minnesota,” according to the opinion.

Wednesday’s appeal from Rock Island Clean Line states the appellate court “blatantly ignored” the need to give deference to the Illinois Commerce Commission’s interpretation and application of the Public Utilities Act; imposed a construction of that act that is “internally contradictory and inherently absurd”; and disregarded Rock Island Clean Line’s federal obligations, among several other arguments.

“[The appellate court’s decision] creates significant barriers to development of transmission projects that provide substantial public benefits and imposes a burden on interstate transmission of electricity by holding that interstate transmission lines cannot be built into or across Illinois unless they have Illinois customers,” according to Rock Island Clean Line’s appeal.