RICL: Opposition, for now

Efforts to build the DC powerline across Iowa may return

-File photo Transmission lines like these would have been erected across 16 Iowa counties, including seven in the Farm News coverage area, and three in The Messenger’s coverage area, but the Rock Island Clean Lines application for utility franchise in Iowa has been withdrawn, at least for now.

Supporters of the Preservation of Rural Iowa Alliance have learned in the past three years that, “you can fight city hall.”

The group opposed the construction of a 500-mile, high-voltage overhead direct current transmission line through 16 Iowa counties, which was to deliver 3,500 megawatts of wind power from northwest Iowa and the surrounding region to communities in Illinois and other states to the east.

Among other reasons, they cited health issues, safety and the use of eminent domain as grounds for opposition.

The project was proposed by Clean Line Energy partners and would run from the Granville area, in Sioux County, to near Morris, Illinois. The Iowa portion of the route would cover 375 miles, with the Illinois portion covering 125 miles.

Clean Line Energy had hoped at one time to have the lines operational by this year.

The project was halted on Dec. 22, 2016, when Clean Lines Energy filed for withdrawal of the proposed project for all 16 Iowa counties with the Iowa Utilities Board, until the resolution of a pending legal proceeding in Illinois. That resolution, according to a statement from Clean Line Energy, could come as early as mid-2017.

“The Rock Island Clean Line’s delayed development timeline and upcoming deadlines associated with the IUB procedural schedule led to this decision to withdraw the applications,” the statement said. “The project’s unanimous approval from the Illinois Commerce Commission has been appealed and is currently before the Illinois Supreme Court.”

Carolyn Sheridan, president of PRIA, said the opposition group is cautiously overjoyed that the project has been halted, at least for now. She said the group is aware that it could spring up again “at any time” because wording in the Iowa Code does not contain language to allow for a withdrawal of petitions.

Instead, it sets a 60-month waiting period on projects that have been rejected — not ones that have been withdrawn.

“Since RICL was not rejected, it can refile and start new franchise petitions for this route or a whole new route at any time,” said Sheridan. “They will have to start all over again if they do that, though, including filing the route, sending notices to land owners, scheduling informational meetings, getting easements signed, everything.

“The project is done in Iowa for now.”

Documents from the IUB stated that in order for the project to be completed, regulatory approval is required from both the IUB and the Illinois Commerce Commission. An order was issued Aug. 8, 2016, establishing a procedural schedule for the Iowa regulatory process.

The order established dates for filings and other actions that would permit the board to fully consider the project and make a decision by May 27, 2016. That being said, a decision on the Clean Line franchise petitions was to be issued by the board no later than May 27, 2018, and at the time the procedural schedule was adopted, the ICC had already issued a decision favorable to the project, but the decision was on appeal.

The Appellate Court of Illinois reversed the decision of the ICC on Aug. 10, 2016, and the issue was taken to the Illinois Supreme Court in mid-September by the ICC, Clean Line Energy and other parties.

The document stated that the Illinois Supreme Court will not issue a decision before May 2017.

It went on to say that the procedural schedule issued required Clean Line Energy to file initial Exhibit E documents for at least four counties by the 13th of each month thereafter, with all Exhibit E documents filed no later than May 1, 2017.

“Given the regulatory uncertainty in Illinois and the statutory deadline for a decision on the current petitions, Clean Line has elected to file this withdrawal of the franchise petitions, rather than requesting a modification of the procedural schedule from the board,” official IUB documents state. “Clean Lines understands that it would be difficult for the board to modify the present schedule and Clean Line does not deem it to be an efficient utilization of resources to proceed with the filing (including the submittal and review of the Exhibit E documents) until after the Illinois Supreme Court issues its decision concerning the Illinois regulatory approval.”

Clean Line Energy will determine new filings with the IUB following the decision of the Illinois Supreme Court appeal.

Sheridan said PRIA went into this opposition not knowing what to expect in terms of the Iowa utilities process, and not knowing if it would receive support from land owners across the state. She said they were also taken aback by the tenacity of Clean Lines, good and bad media coverage.

“This is an example of what can happen when Midwest Americans pull together for a good cause,” she said. “We decided early on that everyone had a story, and everyone’s story was important, whether they just didn’t want (transmission lines) in their fields, or if they were worried about the health effects, destruction or devaluation of their property, everybody’s story was equally important.”

She went on to say that the group raised $200,000 to fight Clean Line Energy’s proposal.

“We backed down a multimillion-dollar corporation,” she said, “and we have no intention of dissolving our organization because we still have a lot of important work to do in working with Rock Island Clean Lines and the IUB for us and for communities across the nation. We will still be working on private property rights.”

A statement from Clean Line Energy said that despite the scheduling delays for this project, the need to build electric infrastructure remains.

“Clean Line Energy continues to move full steam ahead on its other transmission projects,” the company statement said, including work being done for groundbreaking on the Plains and Eastern Clean Line, the country’s largest clean energy infrastructure project. “(That project) will connect low-cost, clean energy resources in the Oklahoma panhandle to Arkansas and states throughout the Southeast.”

Clean Line Energy Vice President Hans Detweiler said, “Projects backed by private investments like the Rock Island Clean Line address our country’s continued demand for electric infrastructure.

“The Rock Island Clean Line will bring (an approximate) $7 billion investment in new wind farms and save Illinois consumers hundreds of millions of dollars in energy costs.”