SPRINGFIELD – The proposed Grain Belt Express electricity transmission line is out of the station and shunting its way, the developers hope, toward regulatory approval.
The $2 billion project's builders, Texas-based Clean Line Energy Partners, announced Monday it had filed a proposed route and an alternate route with the Illinois Commerce Commission in Springfield, the state's power system regulators.
The ICC is being asked to grant a “certificate of public convenience and necessity” for the 780-mile long overhead line that will cross Central Illinois. It's designed to bring yet-to-be-built wind farm energy from breezy Kansas to tap into the existing energy grid at Sullivan, Ind. The development schedule calls for construction to begin in 2017 and power to be flowing by as early as 2019.
Clean Line Energy has submitted one main route and one alternate that traverse Pike, Scott, Greene, Macoupin, Montgomery, Christian, Shelby, Cumberland and Clark counties. The developers have asked for expedited approval, which could come within 150 days, if all goes well. But Beth Bosch, ICC spokeswoman, said ICC staff can ask for an additional 75 days to consider the details if they feel it necessary.
“If staff want to do that, they have to ask for the extra time within 30 days of the Grain Belt Express filing,” added Bosch.
Amy Kurt, a manager for Clean Line Energy, hopes for a smooth regulatory passage and says there is a lot in Grain Belt Express for regulators and consumers to like. Kurt said the flood of clean wind power the line will unleash is projected, based on studies, to drop wholesale power prices in Illinois by $750 million in its first five years of operation.
“I think we have developed a project that will bring great benefits to the state of Illinois,” said Kurt. “And that is one of the key things that the Illinois Commerce Commission looks for when they go to approve transmission lines.”
Kurt says 14 wind farm developers are queuing up to send their volts down the yet-to-be-built line and it's already oversubscribed. Usage requests so far add up to 20,000 megawatts of power transmission, some four and a half times the new line's projected capacity.
The prospect of all that clean new energy has attracted the support of the Citizens Utility Board public watchdog group.
“Innovative projects like the Grain Belt Express will dramatically expand the low-cost, clean energy supply for Illinois, benefiting consumers,” said David Kolata, CUB's executive director.
Assuming the new line does win approval in 150 or 225 days, it won't be out of the woods just yet. Easements must be negotiated with landowners and, in the case where agreements can't be agreed upon, Clean Line Energy will have to come back to the ICC and begin separate proceedings seeking eminent domain to acquire access.
The company developed its route after holding extensive public meetings and says it's done its best to sweeten the pot. Proposed payments to landowners include an easement fee and one-time payment of $6,000 to $18,000 per power pole, depending on pole size. Or landowners can choose to receive annual payments of $500 to $1,500 per pole, based on pole size, and those payments will increase at 2 percent a year.
Counties where the line passes through will be offered compensation of $7,000 per mile, payable for 20 years. Taking Shelby County as an example, the county's annual fee for 40 miles of line adds up to $280,000.
But the promised money isn't buying everybody's support, however. Shelby County Farm Bureau is on record as opposing the new line and Farm Bureau president Bob Hemer told the Herald & Review previously that the line was not popular.
“We've polled members and, basically, nobody wants it,” he said.