The Illinois Supreme Court has decided to review the Third Appellate Court ruling that Rock Island Clean Line (RICL) does not qualify as a public utility.
The Illinois Landowners Alliance (ILA), the Illinois Farm Bureau and ComEd prevailed in their arguments that RICL does not meet the requirements of a public utility, and therefore, is not entitled to eminent domain.
The Illinois Supreme Court will review the August ruling of the Third Appellate Court of Appeals unanimously reversed the Order of the Illinois Commerce Commission granting a certificate of public convenience and necessity to the RICL, and remanded the cause to the commission with directions to enter an order consistent with its decision. RICL, along with other special interest parties, are appealing that decision to the Illinois Supreme Court.
The Appellate Court ruled RICL failed to meet the requirements of a public utility including that it does not own, control, operate,or manage assets within the state; and the proposed transmission line is not for public use without discrimination. Because Rock Island is not a public utility, the court said the ICC lacked authority to issue a CPCN in the first place.
Mary Mauch, executive director for ILA, stated, “We are encouraged by the Appellate Court’s unanimous decision that RICL does not meet the requirements of a public utility and are confident that the law will prevail again at the Illinois Supreme Court. We have believed from the very beginning that private, start-up spec companies, operating outside of the established electric grid, do not have the same rights of eminent domain as the real electric utility companies. We are more determined than ever to protect our private property rights from a precedent that would push the boundaries of eminent domain.”
Four years ago, on Nov. 28, 2012, the newly-formed ILA submitted its petition to intervene to the Illinois Commerce Commission (ICC) in opposition RICL.
The ILA represents more than 300 landowners who own or have interests in more that 100,000 acres of land that lie on or along the proposed RICL route in Illinois. Their first filing to the Illinois Supreme Court, along with the Illinois Farm Bureau, states: “The member-landowners of these two organizations steadfastly oppose having to face the prospect of Rock Island forcing its way onto their farms and other lands through legal process in order to build its transmission line. Although the proceedings before the Commission did not include a request for eminent domain authority, had the Commission’s Order been allowed to stand, Rock Island inevitably would have returned to the Commission to seek authority, as a newly-certificated public utility, to exercise eminent domain to acquire rights of way across those farms and lands.”
The Illinois Supreme Court process is very similar to the Appellate Court process. Briefs from RICL and the other appealing special interest parties are due on Dec. 28. Reply briefs from the opposing parties, including ILA, Illinois Farm Bureau and ComED, are due 35 days later. Oral arguments are expected to be scheduled two to three months after the last briefs are filed. An opinion normally takes three to four months, although the Appellate Court took much longer to rule.
RICL continues to be stalled in Iowa. In spite of previous heavy land agent activity, RICL has acquired less than 15 percent of the necessary easements.
RICL is a 500-mile high-voltage direct current electric transmission line that was proposed to run from northwestern Iowa to northeast Illinois. It is owned by Clean Line Energy Partners of Houston, Texas, who is also developing at least two other transmission projects to capitalize on moving energy (not restricted to wind) from the Midwest into expensive eastern electric markets. Clean Line is currently supported by financial contributions from private investors while it struggles to get any of its projects constructed to generate revenue.