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Illinois approves new ComEd transmission line; could create access to 1,000 MW

Highlights

Illinois regulators have approved Commonwealth Edison's plan to build a 345-kV transmission line, which could open access to about 1,000 MW of additional generation starting in mid-2017, a ComEd spokesman said Thursday.

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"The 1,000 MW reflects the additional import capability into PJM," ComEd spokesman David O'Dowd said Thursday, referring to grid operator PJM Interconnection.

The Illinois Commerce Commission approved the nearly 70-mile-long, $251 million Grand Prairie Gateway line in northern Illinois on Wednesday, after a contentious review period marked by a negative recommendation from an administrative law judge.

Construction of the line is set to start in the second quarter of 2015. The line has an estimated in-service date of June 1, 2017.


O'Dowd said most of the additional power is expected to come from renewables, particularly wind farms.

The line "will provide greater access to generation in western Illinois and that, by virtue of its location, is likely to be carbon-free, low-carbon resources including wind," he said. Generation also could come from other renewables such as solar and biomass, "and it also could be natural gas."

LOCAL OPPOSITION, BUT COMMISSION CITES BENEFITS

The project drew considerable opposition, both from landowners in the proposed path of the line and local communities.

The city of Elgin, for example, urged that the line, at least the portion of it near the city, be installed underground.

Terrance Hilliard, an administrative law judge, recommended against the commission issuing a certificate of public convenience and necessity for the project, saying ComEd had not submitted sufficient information to justify its construction.

But the commission disagreed. It concluded the benefits of the project outweighed the costs, citing evidence that suggested net benefits of $121.1 million-$324.6 million.

ComEd said the line would cut carbon emissions by 473,000 tons over 15 years, in addition to increasing customer access to lower-cost generation and reducing grid congestion.

"As the competitive electricity market expands, transmission lines become congested over time, just like highways do as the communities grow around them," Terence Donnelly, ComEd executive vice president chief operating officer, said in a statement. "This congestion impedes the flow of low-cost energy, increasing the cost of delivering that energy to our customers, and we're obligated to solve that problem."

Congestion on the system "is inhibiting the lowest-cost generating plants -- like wind -- from getting power to customers that want it," added Sean Brady, regional policy manager of Wind on the Wires, a trade group.

The line will be built near ComEd's existing Byron substation and run through Ogle, DeKalb, Kane and DuPage counties.

The need for the project was first identified as part of the annual regional planning process managed by PJM.

--Bob Matyi, newsdesk@platts.com
--Edited by Lisa Miller, lisa.miller@platts.com