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Clean Line puts Rock Island transmission project on hold pending court challenge

Clean Line Energy Partners has temporarily withdrawn an application for its Rock Island Clean Line transmission project to allow a pending court challenge in the Illinois Supreme Court to be resolved.

The 500-mile high-voltage, direct-current line's approval by the Illinois Commerce Commission has been challenged by local landowners and Chicago-area utility Commonwealth Edison Co., a subsidiary of Exelon Corp. The commission issued a certificate of public convenience and necessity for the line in 2014.

Rock Island Clean Line is proposed to run from northwestern Iowa to load and population centers in Illinois and elsewhere in the PJM Interconnection LLC footprint, and will carry 3,500 MW of wind-generated power should it proceed.

The company announced its decision to suspend the line Dec. 22, citing an upcoming Iowa Utilities Board deadline in January 2017 that would have required Clean Line to identify specific parcels of land for eminent domain in several counties. Clean Line spokeswoman Allison Copple said the company did not wish to proceed with the application in Iowa until the situation in Illinois is sorted out. Clean Line expects the decision from the Illinois Supreme Court to come in mid-2017.

"We prefer to get resolution of the Illinois approval first, and then revisit the Iowa process," Copple said. "The [Iowa Utilities Board] docket that we are withdrawing from has been consumed mostly by procedural motions that would not need to be repeated if we were to reapply. So reapplication would be a new application, with a new clock, but that does not mean that we would need to spend two years getting to where we are today."

An Aug. 8 order from the Iowa Utilities Board set out a procedural schedule for the regulatory process in that state, including a May 27, 2018, deadline for a final decision from the board. When this schedule was adopted, the Illinois commission had already issued its approval of the line, but just two days after the Iowa board set the schedule, an Illinois court reversed the approval of the line. That decision set the stage for an appeal to the Illinois Supreme Court, which agreed in November to hear the matter.

In a Dec. 22 statement, Clean Line stressed that despite the project's delays, there is still a need to build electricity infrastructure, and therefore the company intends to "move full steam ahead" on its other transmission projects. Clean Line is also working on the Plains and Eastern Clean Line that will run more than 700 miles from western Oklahoma to the Tennessee Valley Authority region. That project is also the subject of a lawsuit, after two Arkansas landowner groups challenged the Department of Energy's involvement in the project.