The Rock Island Clean Line was dealt another blow Thursday, but it is still alive.
The Illinois Supreme Court, in a unanimous 7-0 opinion, affirmed the Third District Court of Appeals August 2016 determination that Rock Island Clean Line is not a public utility, and thus, cannot use eminent domain to build a transmission line for its wind energy project across Illinois.
The proposed route, which is designed to bring wind energy from the more open areas of the Midwest and direct it toward Chicago and cities farther east, would go through northern Grundy County.
RICL’s seeking of eminent domain is what caused landowners in Iowa and Illinois to unite in 2012.
William Shay, lead attorney for appellant Illinois Landowners Alliance, said, “In a carefully-reasoned and well-written opinion, the Illinois Supreme Court agreed with the Illinois Landowners Alliance, the FarmBureau, and ComEd that Rock Island does not meet the definition of ‘public utility’ under our state's Public Utilities Act, and therefore does not qualify for a certificate to construct the project as a public utility project and conduct business as a public utility in Illinois.”
Hans Detweiler, Vice President of Development for Clean Line Energy Partners, said the Illinois Supreme Court faulted the application for having an option agreement to purchase the converter station parcel instead of having a fully exercised purchase agreement at the time of the application to the Illinois Commerce Commission.
“On that basis, the application has been rejected,” Detweiler said. “This causes great delay for the project and will directly impact competition in electricity markets, resulting in fewer choices and higher prices for electricity.”
“Although we are disappointed with the Supreme Court ruling on the Rock Island Clean Line, on the positive side, the decision did not impact the authority of the ICC, and the Court made clear that we have an opportunity to refile with the ICC at a later date,” Detweiler said.
Illinois Landowners Alliance Executive Director Mary Mauch said, “From the very beginning of Block RICL and the ILA in 2012, we have firmly believed that RICL does not qualify as a public utility and is absolutely not entitled to use the power of eminent domain. RICL’s foray into eminent domain for private gain has served to raise the public consciousness against these kinds of projects and unite communities to create strong opposition to them.”
According to Shay, the court noted that nothing stops Rock Island from seeking to develop its project as a private facility, but it will not have public utility status, including the right to condemn landowner easements through eminent domain.