Illinois News

ICC defends decision to OK Grain Belt Express Clean Line before appellate court

By Herald-Whig
Posted: Mar. 9, 2017 5:25 pm Updated: Mar. 9, 2017 6:09 pm

PITTSFIELD, Ill. -- The Illinois Commerce Commission recently asked the 5th District Appellate Court to uphold its decision in favor of the Grain Belt Express Clean Line project.

The ICC defended its final order granting the 780-mile infrastructure project a certificate of public convenience and necessity in Illinois before the court Feb. 28. The Illinois portion of the project will span just over 200 miles. The ICC approved the project in November 2015 on a 3-2 vote.

"We are pleased with the hearing and hopeful the court will uphold the Illinois Commerce Commission's decision," said Amy Kurt, director of the Grain Belt Express Clean Line. "The Illinois Commerce Commission is defending its decision to bring this important infrastructure project to the state of Illinois at a time when Illinois is in need of new revenue."

Landowners and the Illinois Farm Bureau have pushed back against the project.

"We oppose the expedited review process being used on a several hundred mile-long project," said Blake Roderick, Pike County Farm Bureau executive director. "To be able to use (expedited review), it must be a utility."

The Illinois Farm Bureau contends that the project is not a public utility, but rather a "merchant wholesaler of power," Roderick said.

"The Illinois Commerce Commission doesn't have time to fully vet the project (under expedited review)," he said. "It's a very narrow time frame."

Kurt said the project represents a $700 million investment in Illinois that would put 1,500 people to work and directly benefit landowners and communities along the project route.

"This privately funded infrastructure project clearly serves a public purpose by saving consumers hundreds of millions of dollars in energy costs and creating jobs in the state," Mark Lawlor, vice president of the Grain Belt Express, said in a news release.

The Grain Belt Express Clean Line has been in development for seven years.

"One of the reasons it's taking so long is it is a multistate project," Kurt said.

Regulatory agencies in Kansas, Illinois and Indiana have approved running the line across their states, but Missouri's Public Service Commission denied Clean Line a certificate of convenience and necessity in July 2015 on grounds the line would not benefit the state's consumers and landowners. The commission is holding formal evidentiary hearings from March 20 to March 24. Kurt said she expects a final decision from the Missouri commission this year.

"We are picking up momentum in Missouri, and several Missouri municipalities have signed on to purchase power (from the line)," Kurt said. "Hannibal was one of the first customers to move forward with an agreement to secure power."

The 4,000-megawatt line would carry power from a Kansas wind farm through Missouri and Illinois to Indiana if approved.

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