Because nobody trusts Clean Line Energy Partners to actually remain a merchant project, the ICC conditioned its recent approval on Clean Line having to come back before the ICC for approval before the cost of RICL can be allocated to Illinois ratepayers, either through PJM or MISO's planning process.
(Raise your hand if you suspect Clean Line is approaching the permitting and cost allocation process backwards -- getting its state permits first before approaching PJM and/or MISO to have its project added to the regional plan and cost allocated to consumers).
The allocation of transmission costs to ratepayers is a FERC-jurisdictional process. It is not decided by individual states (except it may be addressed through the RTO planning process, but good luck there, Illinois, if RICL gets included in a regional plan).
ComEd has taken issue with this stipulation:
Throughout this proceeding RI has claimed that Illinois customers will not pay the
Project’s costs. Because this fact is critical not just to protect customers, but also underlies RI’s economic case, the Order includes a condition stating that RI must seek Commission approval “prior to recovering any Project costs from Illinois retail ratepayers through PJM or MISO regional cost allocation[.]” While ComEd agrees fully with the Commission’s intent, this condition cannot be relied upon to protect customers, for several reasons.
FERC has exclusive authority over transmission rates under federal law. It is far
from clear that FERC or a federal court would find that Illinois can require an applicant to waive the ability to petition FERC to approve any specific type of transmission rate, or could enforce such a waiver against a FERC finding that it was “just and reasonable” to pass costs on to customers.
Even if the Commission could void the CPCN if RI (or a successor) made such a request to FERC, it is not clear what effect that “remedy” would have on customers’ rates. By then, the costs would be incurred and the line would be transmitting power in interstate commerce.
The Order’s condition does not apply to other parties (e.g., generators, shippers) who
could ask FERC to modify the rate to shift costs to customers, even if RI never did.
Similarly, the Order does not limit the authority of FERC itself, which could sua
sponte revise RI’s rates, either in a RI-specific or a more broadly based investigation
proceeding. FERC has the power to “determine the just and reasonable rate … to be
thereafter observed” (16 U.S.C § 824e (2012)) in response to such a complaint or
upon its own motion, not just a filing by RI.
At a minimum, given the critical importance of shielding Illinois customers from Project
costs, the viability of this condition as a means of protecting customers – and potential
alternatives including financial security – warrants deeper examination on rehearing.
Meanwhile, the ICC's condition does NOTHING to protect ratepayers in other states from having the cost of RICL foisted upon them.
Let's hope the ICC thinks this one through a little more.