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Transmission line proposed
Attendees of the Oct. 7 open house meeting for the high voltage transmission line proposed to be built by 2020 connecting Middleton to Dyersville, Iowa, were able to look at maps to visually get an idea of where the transmission line could go. No potential routes have been chosen.

GRANT COUNTY—A high-voltage transmission line has been proposed to connect a Madison-area substation with one near Dyersville, Iowa, traveling approximately 125 miles and cutting directly through Grant County.

The exact placement of the new Cardinal-Hickory Creek transmission line has yet to be determined, but an open house event was held in Lancaster on Oct. 6 and in Belmont on Oct. 7 to allow the public to gather information and discuss any concerns they have with the two transmission companies that are coordinating the project.

At the Lancaster event, there were 145 registered attendees; the following day, in Belmont, there were 105. No formal presentation was made. Instead, maps were set up and representatives from ATC and ITC were able to discuss the process and answer questions with individuals.

The project would connect American Transmission Company’s Cardinal Substation in the town of Middleton, Dane County, to ITC Midwest’s proposed Hickory Creek Substation near Dyersville in Dubuque County, Iowa. A substation is also proposed for the Montfort area.

The 345,000-volt line would be constructed in 2019, following two years of public meetings and a lengthy application process with state regulators. If everything goes according to plan, the project would be in service in 2020. The estimated cost of the project is currently $425 million; ATC and ITC would split the cost of the project.

Two routes would eventually be proposed. For now, a wide study area is being considered, including a significant portion of Grant County. The Wisconsin portion of the study area starts at the Mississippi River just north of Cassville, follows the river down to Dubuque, Iowa, and includes the Grant County villages and cities of Bloomington, Lancaster, Potosi, Platteville, Dickeyville, Kieler, Livingston and Montfort. Outside of Grant County, the study area includes Highland, Dodgeville, Ridgeway, Blue Mounds, Arena, Mount Horeb, Mazomanie, Black Earth and Cross Plains.

“There’s a wide area that we’re looking at to connect the end points,” Kaya Freiman of ATC said. “Over the next two years we’ll be taking in the public input, getting people as much information as possible and narrowing down route options. Eventually we will propose two routes to the PSC [Public Service Commission].”

Freiman said several factors are considered before determining potential routes. Established environmental areas are avoided as well as airports, which may have height restrictions. Cities or areas with congestion are a challenge because there isn’t room for the right of way for construction and maintenance.

“The state has statutes that we must look at certain things first, like existing transmission lines, other utility facilities such as gas pipelines, interstates, state highways, railroads, etcetera [for transmission line placement]. There are places we look to avoid, either because of outstanding public input or because they wouldn’t be permitable. Then we have the areas that we have to by state statute look at as a priority.”

With similar transmission line projects, several concerns have been brought up by citizens in the public input stages of the route proposal process.

“Visual impact is definitely a top concern,” Freiman said. “The structures are taller than the normal poles that somebody might see in their neighborhood. They could be up to 100 to 150 feet tall, depending on the structure. The other impact is that when we build a line, if this line were approved, we would need to acquire easements and we need to manage a right of way. For this project, a typical easement could be 150 feet.”

ATC started a similar transmission line project to connect the Madison area with the La Crosse area, known as the Badger-Coulee Transmission Line. That project is currently waiting for Public Service Commission approval and construction of the line is anticipated to begin in 2016. That project is slightly larger, covering 160 to 180 miles and is expected to cost $540-580 million.

The Badger-Coulee line has been controversial for both its cost and the impact it would have on the land and residents along the proposed paths.

Potential benefits

Transmission lines, which consist of heavy cables strung between tall structures, carry power from where it is generated to where it is used. The transmission network enables a large amount of power to travel long distances. Because of the interconnected nature of the transmission grid, communities located along transmission lines can benefit from them, even if they are not located near the line.

“This line is a multi-value project, which means it has a couple of purposes,” Freiman said.

The Cardinal-Hickory Creek transmission line project will provide electric reliability, access to lower-cost power and access to renewable energy.

“The project will benefit all electric users in the region and local electric users as well,” Freiman said. “The 345 kV projects serve as the backbone of the transmission grid. They serve the lower voltage transmission lines, which in turn serve all electric users in the region.”

Freiman said this line was proposed to move wind power from Iowa and the west where the wind blows more.

“Essentially, this project and the Badger-Coulee project, along with 17 other multi-value projects, have been identified because of the ability to move a large amount of wind that is highly efficient into the region,” Freiman said. “It also would move other types of power.”

Electricity is first generated at power plants by coal, gas, oil, nuclear energy, wind, water or solar means. The electricity is then transported at very high voltages over long distances via electric transmission lines to communities. The electricity is reduced to lower voltages at substations, then local utility companies deliver the power to homes and businesses over smaller poles and wires in neighborhoods.

“By providing access to lower-cost power, you can help put downward pressure on rates. Transmission is about 10 percent of an electric bill that people would get in the mail. You would never get a bill from us [ATC] directly,” Freiman said. “Bills typically, with inflation, fuel costs and other factors, would generally go up. These lines will provide access to lower-cost power, which will in turn help put downward pressure on rates. You wouldn’t expect to lower the electric bill. It’s just holding the line on costs so they won’t continue to rise or rise as much.”

Alternate voice

Outside the Youth and Ag Building in Lancaster on Oct. 6, volunteers from Save Our Unique Lands (SOUL) of Wisconsin attempted to speak to individuals leaving the transmission line forum, bringing out material attempting to show that the lines, more than twice the capacity of the lines currently running through the region, are not needed and will cause monthly bills to rise.

With Wisconsin’s electric rates climbing to the 11th highest in the nation, according to the group, the economic impact on the proposed transmission line would mean even higher rates at a time when efficiencies in the home have pushed midwest energy use to drop an average of 2.5 percent annually since the mid-2000s.

The volunteers were pushing for alternative uses, like solar, as opposed to the outlay for the transmission lines, as well as making sure the state followed a regional trend of increasing the amount available for home energy efficiency projects.

The information provided by SOUL also showed concern that the proposed capacity of this line may increase in the future, and that the proposed Montfort substation may lead to another large transmission line running into Illinois, taking advantage of that substation.

A number of the members of the crowd that talked to the SOUL volunteers seemed receptive, wanting to see more solar panels, but a number of those were apprehensive signing the petition being passed around, noting that just like they wanted more information about the ATC/ITC plan, they wanted more information about SOUL’s alternative before picking sides as well.

Routing Criteria and Easements

When building new power lines, Wisconsin law requires co-location with existing facilities and infrastructure where it is feasible. The types of pre-existing corridors include existing transmission and other electric lines, pipelines, state and federal highways, railroads and recreational trails. New corridors will be established using section lines or property boundaries when feasible.

Developing routes that might be suitable for transmission lines requires a balanced look at a variety of factors. Landowner and community input is considered as well as the impacts of available route alternatives. Transmission line routing may involve trade-offs between a particular set of advantages and disadvantages.

Easements, or the right to use property for a specific purpose and to restrict certain uses that interfere with the specific purpose of the easement, allow for the construction and maintenance of the transmission line. The presence of a transmission line limits certain land use within the easement, including buildings and trees. Landowners are compensated for any loss of use of the land in the form of a one-time payment for an easement area. Additional compensation will be made for any loss of crops or damage to the property during construction of the transmission line.

Stray Voltage

Stray voltage, or low-level voltages that may occur between surfaces that animals contact, are associated with on-farm wiring and electrical connections to utility distribution systems, such as the proposed transmission line. The electricity is grounded to the earth to ensure safety and electric reliability. Some current flows through the earth at each grounding point and small voltage develops, called neutral-to-earth voltage. When this is found at animal contact points, it is called stray voltage.

National studies have shown that cows react differently to various levels of stray voltage. At certain elevated levels, cows may experience stress and behavioral changes, which can lead to health problems and decreased milk production. The research supports that stray voltage of 2.0 volt AC or less should not cause health or production concerns for livestock. If greater stray voltage is measured, action should be taken to reduce this voltage.

Stray voltage is sometimes incorrectly used to refer to other electric phenomena such as electric fields, magnetic fields and current flowing in the earth. Any device that uses or carries electricity creates electric and magnetic fields. Electric fields are created by voltage and magnetic fields are created by current. The strength and intensity of electric and magnetic fields quickly decreases as you move away from their source.

A considerable amount of third-party research as focused on whether magnetic fields from power lines adversely affect the health of those living near the lines. The research findings have been inconclusive.

David Timmerman of the Grant County Herald Independent contributed to this article.