Proposed Power Lines Spark Ongoing Controversy

Wisconsin’s Fragile Driftless Area Could Be At Risk

Tensions are rising as lawmakers, environmentalists, local residents and sponsoring companies continue to debate plans for the new Cardinal-Hickory-Creek transmission line. Although project advocates boast the proposed project will provide low-cost and renewable energy, the line poses potential health risks for residents of southern Wisconsin and threatens the surrounding environment.

Grassroots opposition to the project is strong. Many local groups including the Mount Horeb Area School District opposes the plan.

The 345-kilovolt line, which is funded by the American Transmission Co. (ATC), ITC Midwest, and Dairyland Power Cooperative, is expected to run approximately 125 miles between Madison and Iowa and cost an estimated $500 million. Cardinal-Hickory Creek transmission line is an extension of the 245-kilovolt Badger Coulee transmission line. Proponents and builders hope that the line will be in service by 2023.

Currently, two primary routes are proposed -- a southern route that runs along highway 18-151 along existing transmission lines and a northern route that runs west halfway between highway 18-151 and highway 14 then turns south. The companies say they planned the routes to have the least environmental impact. The USDA Rural Utilities Service was scheduled to release a statement on the environmental impacts of the line in March.

Proponents of the transmission line argue the project will supply cheaper electricity and bolster existing wind farms in Iowa, Minnesota, and North Dakota. According to an article in the Wisconsin State Journal, Chris Kunkle, regional policy manager for Wind on the Wires, stated that new transmission lines are essential for a transition to a renewable energy system and to create pathways for more wind energy. The new line could promote the shift away from coal-reliance and create sustainable infrastructure for renewable energy, says Kunkle, in a recent interview with Simpson Street Free Press. The lines could also provide increased electrical reliability by connecting old, lower-voltage lines to homes, schools, businesses, and residences.

Paul Heinen, an agriculture strategies fellow at The Nature Conservancy, said that even though the transmission lines could cause some environmental damage, the line is ultimately a good thing due to the renewable energy that it will bring to the area. Because the line will be built along the highway, environmental damage will be minimized, Heinen said.

But, those in opposition disagree about the necessity of the line. According to the same State Journal article, the Driftless Area Land Conservancy states that because Alliant Energy started construction on a natural gas-fired power plant, a solar field in Beloit, and at least two wind farms in the state, the extra power is unnecessary. Residents instead believe that upgrades to local power lines would be sufficient. The Driftless Area Land Conservancy also says that an analysis by the Midcontinent Independent System Operator (MISO) is obsolete since electric demand along the line has declined.

The transmission line is also projected to negatively impact property values and put children's health at risk. According to an article by Channel 3000, studies show that children living near power lines have three times the risk of developing cancer. Babies living near power lines also show a higher likelihood of developing leukemia during childhood. ATC company spokesmen disagree about potential health risks.

The northern route would run through Wisconsin’s Driftless Area, a region in Wisconsin that was untouched by glaciers. The unique ecosystems in the Driftless Area include endangered flora and fauna. According to the State Journal, the area features recreational trails, world-class trout fishing streams, rest stops for more than half of North America’s migratory bird species, and petroglyphs, which are rock carvings that date back at least 2,000 years. The northern route poses the greatest threat of environmental damage because the Driftless Area is not federally protected.

Wisconsin utility customers will pay at least 10% to 15% of the tab for the building project. The application for the line will be submitted for approval to Wisconsin Public Services later this year and the similar application will go before Iowa Utilities Board in 2019. If approved, the Cardinal-Hickory Creek Transmission Line will ultimately be a part of a $4 billion dollar construction project planned by American Transmission Company.

[Sources: Wisconsin State Jounal; Channel 3000]

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