CHC Line Approved

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By: 
Kevin Murphy

MADISON–The Public Service Commission Tuesday unanimously approved the third high-voltage transmission line to terminate at a substation in the Town of Middleton.

The three commissioners agreed that the 345-kilotvolt Cardinal-Hickory Creek (CHC) line, extending from Dubuque, IA, is needed to bring low-cost renewable power into Wisconsin.

“This project is not only worthy of (construction approval) but is the best option for a carbon-free energy portfolio in the future,” said Commissioner Mike Huebsch.

All three commissioners announced their approval minutes into the nearly three-hour meeting causing about one half of the audience to leave the crowded hearing room disappointed.

Chris Klopp, of the town of Cross Plains, stayed on as the commissioners worked their way through about three dozen questions to justify the $525 million line and its route.

“Even though they paid lip service to the public and numerous intervenors and experts, I feel they’re negligent in protecting the environment, they’re negligent in protecting the public and choosing to believe a fatally flawed analysis,” she said.

Klopp lives between the village of Cross Plains and Pine Bluff in a house her mother has resided in the past 50 years. A trained chemist, Klopp said she became an intervenor along with dozens of other individuals and organizations to resist a line that she believes isn’t needed.

“One of the initial line segments was proposed for just across the road from me. That was later changed but it doesn’t matter where the line is built, it’s a bad idea,” she said.

Klopp invested a lot of time researching the pros and cons of building the line. Her comments were added along with regular power line opponents including Save Our Unique Lands (SOUL) and Citizens Utility Board (CUB), to the decision matrix the commissioners considered in making their determination.

Although she is disappointed by the decision, the regulatory process that began with the filing of a construction application in April 2018, isn’t over.

“It’s time for the public to step up, have their say and see if they can make a difference,” she said.

Klopp believes the decision will be challenged in court by any of the numerous power line opponents, but beyond that there should be public protest because “that’s what we’re left with and we should get busy and do it,” she said during a break in the proceedings.

The commissioners justified construction of the $525 million based on the cost savings utility customers will reap from the increased access to wind power generated by existing wind farms and those that will be built.

In April, the commission condition approved the Badger Hollow Solar Farm on construction of the CHC line. Invenergy, LLC, the project’s developers plan to spread a million solar panels across 3,500 acres in Iowa County.

The line will also deliver energy cost savings by reducing congestion on existing transmission lines, according to the commissioners. Congestion occurs during peak demand periods restricting access to lower-cost wind power produced west of Wisconsin. That power is replaced by higher-cost energy produced locally, said commission chair Rebecca Cameron Vlacq.

The CHC line, named after substations in the town of Middleton and near Dubuque, is the last of 17 “Multi-Value Projects” proposed by the Midcontinent Independent System Operator, an organization charged with distributing power across 15 states and Manitoba, Canada.

Since the approximately 100-mile-long CHC line is part of MISO’s power portfolio, customers in 12 other states will benefit from it and share in its costs. Wisconsin’s share is about 15 percent or between $67 and $72.7 million depending project’s total cost, Huebsch said.

Opponents suggested the line isn’t needed because power can be generated locally through wind and solar sources, stored in batteries and consumption reduced. However, the commissioners found that none of those methods match the “utility-sized” solution a high-voltage line offers.

A joint venture by American Transmission Co., ITC Midwest, of Iowa, and Dairyland Power Cooperative, the line will be strung from weathered steel poles some topping 170 feet across portions of the Driftless Region, prized for its scenic, unspoiled natural beauty.

The line will cross the Mississippi River near Cassville, subject to U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service approval, and continue north east to Lancaster and Monfort. Then east along US 18 through Cobb and Mount Horeb. East of Mount Horeb, the line turns north, east of CTH P before joining CTH P after crossing CTH J. The line avoids the Black Earth Creek Wildlife area by crossing to the north side of US 14 then re-crosses to the south side of US 14 before ending at the Cardinal substation.

The commissioners ordered the line’s builders to minimize impact on the Mount Horeb Veteran’s Memorial and work with Department of Natural Resources staff to minimize impact on the Military Ridge State Trail.

The commissioners will meet next month to approve a final order authorizing the line. The Iowa Board of Utilities will consider the line segment in Iowa in December.

ATC plans to begin line construction in 2021 and put the line in service in 2023.

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