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Cardinal–Hickory Creek power line approved
Appeals in works
CHC route map

The state Public Service Commission gave final approval Thursday for the controversial Cardinal–Hickory Creek power transmission line project.

The 345,000-volt line will run from Cassville to the Town of Middleton along a route modified by PSC commissioners from the originally recommended route.

If the project is approved by the Iowa Utilities Board and three federal agencies, construction will begin in 2021 and the line should be in service in 2023.

The PSC Aug. 20 unanimously approved issuing a Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity for the project, and determined the conditions the applicants must meet to construct the project.

On Thursday, the PSC unanimously approved the project without discussion. The PSC also unanimously denied a motion from project opponents for PSC chair Rebecca Cameron Valcq and member Michael Huebsch to recuse themselves.

A news release from the three companies involved in the project — American Transmission Co., ITC Midwest and Dairyland Power Cooperative — said the developers will begin contacting property owners along the route this fall.

“We are pleased that the PSC has granted final approval in recognition of the need for and benefits of this project,” said Aaron Curtis, project manager for ITC Midwest. “This project will help ensure electric reliability and provide access to lower-cost power and renewable energy for all electric users in the region.”

“This is good news for Dairyland’s cooperative members — and all energy users in the region — who depend on the reliable and safe delivery of electricity every night and day,” said Ben Porath, vice president of power delivery for Dairyland Power Cooperative. “The Cardinal–Hickory Creek line will help our region accommodate the changing energy environment by greatly bolstering access to renewable resources, while delivering substantial benefits in excess of the costs of the line.”

About $66 million of the $492 million project will be paid for by Wisconsin electricity users in their electric bills.

The power line project was opposed by environmental groups, property owners and those concerned about the potential negative effects to land values, health from electromagnetic fields, and Southwest Wisconsin tourism.

“The Driftless Area Land Conservancy is extremely disappointed with the PSC’s final written decision today to approve American Transmission Co.’s application for an unneeded huge Cardinal-Hickory Creek transmission line with 17-story towers that would create irreparable and permanent damage to the scenic Driftless Area,” said Mark Mittelstadt, a member of DALC’s board. “The line also is expected to carry much less wind energy than coal, and not the renewables conduit that the applicants suggested.

“Opponents of the proposed transmission line did not get a fair hearing in this process because of appearances of conflicts of interest from two of the three PSC commissioners. … The PSC’s decision will result in higher utility rates in Wisconsin and across the Midwest, and will allow ATC and ITC to condemn private land through eminent domain. This line would also make it impossible to meet Gov. [Tony] Evers’ goal of 100 percent clean energy in Wisconsin by 2050, as it seems likely to always carry a lot of coal energy, and would be in place through 2070 and beyond.”

Mittelstadt’s group filed the motion for Valcq and Huebsch to recuse themselves, saying that “Opponents of the proposed transmission line did not get a fair hearing in this process because of appearances of conflicts of interest from two of the three PSC commissioners.”

But Matthew Sweeney of PSC Communications said the motion was unanimously denied the motion because “the motion lacked both evidence and merit.”

“The Wisconsin Wildlife Federation is extremely disappointed with the Public Service Commissioners’ decision to issue a certificate of public convenience and necessity for the Cardinal–Hickory Creek high-voltage transmission line,” said George Meyer, WWF executive director and a former secretary of the state Department of Natural Resources. “The Driftless Area is a truly unique landscape and home to a large number of valuable and heavily used federal, state and local recreational areas. There has been a substantial amount of public and private investment in the natural resources and the recreational facilities of the Driftless Area including hundreds of small businesses that derive their income based on the resulting tourism economy.

“The construction and maintenance of the proposed line and very high towers will have significant and undue adverse impacts on environmental values, including land and water resources. The Wisconsin Wildlife Federation will continue to challenge this destructive transmission line before federal and other state agencies, and in the courts if necessary.”

Opponents of the project in Southwest Wisconsin included, Mittelstadt said, “Dane County, Iowa County, and many municipalities and school districts throughout Southwest Wisconsin,” and “all of the state legislators of both parties and two members of Wisconsin’s Congressional delegation expressed serious concerns regarding the construction and maintenance of this transmission line.”

Two PSC hearings on the proposed project in Lancaster June 25 drew around 200 people, and of those who spoke, only one spoke in favor of the project.

A news release from state Sen. Howard Marklein (R–Spring Green) and Reps. Travis Tranel (R–Cuba city) and Todd Novak (R–Dodgeville) noted the extensive opposition in their districts.

“Several times, we have asked the commission to thoroughly and cautiously review the proposal to ensure that the proposing company has strong justification for the project,” the letter said. “Do you know whether this power line project is necessary? Many of the residents we represent do not believe that there is a quantifiable need for more transmission. We continue to challenge you to seek quantifiable justification before approving the project.

“The strong turn-out at the public hearings should show you that the public is concerned about this project. We hope that you took the time to review the input and contributions from those who attended. We also hope that you will work with your staff to determine the most prudent, appropriate path forward.”

After the PSC’s preliminary approval in August, Marklein issued a statement saying he appreciated “the difficult deliberative work of the PSC commissioners and I trust that they took my concerns — and those of my constituents — into consideration while studying the project proposal.”

Other groups outside of Southwest Wisconsin expressed approval of the project after the PSC’s initial OK.

“Cardinal–Hickory Creek and other transmission system upgrades are essential to creating an electric grid that can adapt to the way we generate and use power,” said Lu Nelson of the Center for Rural Affairs. “By expanding the potential for connection, transmission upgrades also allow for renewable energy like wind to be built in new places across the Midwest, allowing more rural communities to take advantage of the benefits development can provide. Wisconsin and other states can use their natural resources to generate clean energy as well as support thriving new industries.”

"The demand for more renewable energy is palpable and the Cardinal–Hickory Creek transmission line will provide the ability to access and deliver renewables,” said Kelley Welf of the Clean Grid Alliance, which promotes renewable energy. “We are seeing an ever-increasing stream of state governments, utilities, and corporations announcing plans for more renewable energy because of its low cost and environmental benefits. Our members are ready to fulfill their needs. We are grateful to the commission for recognizing that more transmission is necessary in order to deliver the clean energy future everyone wants. Cardinal–Hickory Creek will also strengthen the grid and provide congestion relief for an efficient energy market in Wisconsin and the surrounding states."

The power line will run from the Turkey River substation across the Mississippi River from Cassville along a route one to two miles south of Wisconsin 81 to near the U.S. 61/Wisconsin 129 south intersection in Lancaster, then northeast to the future Hill Valley Substation in Montfort. The line will then follow U.S. 18 from Montfort to Dodgeville and U.S. 18/151 from Dodgeville around Mount Horeb before going northeast to the Cardinal Substation in the Town of Middleton.

“The PSC made some minor modifications to the route options we developed through our routing and siting process and by engaging the public,” said Jason Valentine, ATC senior project manager. “We submitted route options that align with Wisconsin state statute requirements to co-locate the line with existing infrastructure, where feasible. Ultimately, 95 percent of this line will follow existing rights-of-way, including utility corridors and along state highways.”

The route was chosen over two alternate routes, one from Cassville through Platteville along an existing 138,000-volt line then north to Montfort, and a more northerly route from Montfort along another existing 138,000-volt line through northern Iowa and western Dane counties.

The PSC’s August decision specifically stated “clean energy” as a basis for its decision.

“Transmission is the backbone of clean energy alternatives to fossil fuel," said Valcq, Gov. Tony Evers’ appointee to chair the PSC. "Getting low-cost, clean energy from where it is plentiful in the west to where it is needed, and at the scale that it is needed, cannot be done without building transmission infrastructure. I support this project because I firmly believe that it will provide tangible economic and reliability benefits to Wisconsin customers, and will serve as the cornerstone to achieving a zero carbon future.”

DALC’s board voted in August to authorize an appeal if the PSC gave final approval to the project.

Additional regulatory approvals are required from the Iowa Utilities Board for the Iowa segment of the project, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for permission for the line to cross the Mississippi River.

Under state law a person “aggrieved by the decision” can either request a rehearing from the PSC or file for judicial review in a circuit court “in the county where the property affected by the decision is located or, if no property is affected, in the county where the dispute arose.” The rehearing deadline is Oct. 16, 20 days after the decision was served Thursday; the court deadline is 30 days after the decision is served or a petition for rehearing by the PSC is denied.

Town of Belmont Plan Commission member George Schwarzmann Jr. said Monday night the Environmental Law and Policy Center of Chicago is working on an appeal on behalf of DALC and WWF.