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Cardinal-Hickory Creek: Residents seek reconsideration of power line approval; Iowa County votes to sue PSC
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Cardinal-Hickory Creek: Residents seek reconsideration of power line approval; Iowa County votes to sue PSC

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A handful of residents have asked Wisconsin utility regulators to reconsider the decision to allow construction of a high-voltage power line across the southwest corner of the state, and Iowa County supervisors have voted to join an appeal if the decision stands.

Jewell Jinkins Intervenors, a nonprofit organization formed by three Iowa County families, filed a petition this week asking the Public Service Commission to put on hold the order authorizing construction of the Cardinal-Hickory Creek line between Dubuque and Middleton and to re-examine the application.

Approved Cardinal-Hickory Creek transmission line route

Jewell Jinkins argues the commission failed to sufficiently develop alternatives to the $500 million line, a violation of state and federal environmental laws, and has “abdicated its authority” by allowing the Midwest electric grid operator too much control over transmission line planning.

Carol Overland, an attorney representing the group, said the PSC has refused to address the full cost to Wisconsin ratepayers of some $6.7 billion worth of regional transmission projects.

The group also says the PSC should have included more protections for landowners along the route.

Chris Klopp, another one of the dozens of citizens who participated in the application review and opposes the line, filed a separate petition for rehearing.

Klopp said she supports Jewell Jinkins’ arguments and believes commissioners disregarded evidence refuting need for the project.

Under state law, if not granted within 30 days, the petition is considered denied. The commission’s next scheduled meeting is Oct. 31.

The commission voted unanimously to authorize the project at a Sept. 26 meeting that was interrupted by protesters after commissioners declined requests to recuse themselves over perceived conflicts of interest.

The decision now faces two potential court challenges.

After a closed-session discussion, the Iowa County Board voted 14-2 Wednesday to retain utility attorney Frank Jablonski and spend up to $50,000 to appeal the decision if the PSC does not rescind the approval granted last month.

The county would join the Driftless Area Land Conservancy and Wisconsin Wildlife Federation, which are planning to file appeals in both state and federal courts. While their concerns are generally aligned, Jablonski said it’s too soon to know whether they would file joint or separate appeals.

Jablonski represented the La Crosse County town of Holland in an appeal of the last high-voltage power line approved in southwest Wisconsin. The town secured a partial victory in its case against the Badger Coulee line, which runs between La Crosse and Middleton, but later lost on appeal.

A joint venture of ATC, ITC Midwest and Dairyland Power Cooperative, the line as approved will follow a roughly 100-mile route through Cassville, Montfort, Dodgeville and Mount Horeb, primarily following highway corridors.

The costs will be passed on to ratepayers in 12 states, with about $67 million falling to Wisconsin.

The case drew unprecedented interest, with more than 50 groups and individuals participating in the evaluation process, which drew hundreds of public comments, almost all of them opposed to the line.

The utilities and clean energy advocates said the line is needed to bring power from the west to population centers, and numerous existing and planned wind and solar projects are depending on it to deliver their full output.

Opponents — including conservation groups, the Citizens Utility Board, Dane and Iowa counties, and local governments along the route — questioned the public value, saying it would make available little new renewable energy, damage important conservation areas, and result in minimal ratepayer savings.

Construction on the line is expected to start in 2021, pending approval from the federal Fish and Wildlife Service, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Iowa Utilities Board.

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