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Wisconsin utility regulators have agreed to consider comments from two neighboring states urging rejection of a proposed high-voltage power line to be decided on later this month.

Attorneys general for Illinois and Michigan last week filed a brief with the Public Service Commission opposing the line, known as Cardinal-Hickory Creek, which would run from Dubuque to Middleton.

The PSC voted 2-1 Thursday to accept the filing — known as a “friend of the commission brief” — despite it being submitted after the deadline.

Cardinal-Hickory Creek map

Saying she generally believes in the importance of deadlines, PSC chairwoman Rebecca Valcq said the rules allow the commission to accept such amicus briefs.

Commissioner Mike Huebsch said the PSC should consider comments from as many perspectives as possible — especially from elected officials.

“Cardinal-Hickory Creek is going to be a significant issue — probably the most significant issue this year,” Huebsch said. “Two states want to let us know about an issue before us and we should take that under consideration.”

Mike Huebsch

Huebsch

Commissioner Ellen Nowak dissented, saying the top legal officials should have been able to follow the rules.

A joint venture of ATC, ITC Midwest and Dairyland Power Cooperative, the line would run about 100 miles from Dubuque, Iowa, to Middleton, with an estimated price tag of $474 million to $560 million. Those costs would be passed on to ratepayers in 12 states, with about 15% falling to Wisconsin.

The utilities and clean energy advocates say 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.

The PSC has until Sept. 30 to decide whether the project is needed and in the public interest.

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Echoing concerns of consumer advocates in Wisconsin, Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul and Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel, both Democrats, argued the line is no longer needed and object to the millions of dollars in costs that will be passed on to consumers in their states.

Illinois residents are expected to pay about 10% of the costs, while Michigan residents would cover about 21%.

Sally Talberg text to Mike Huebsch

In a text to Wisconsin PSC Commissioner Mike Huebsch, Michigan PSC Chairwoman Sally Talberg said her state's Attorney General did not consult utility regulators before sending a letter opposing the $500 million Cardinal-Hickory Creek power line project. 

In a text message to Huebsch, Michigan’s top regulator said Nessel did not consult with that state’s Public Service Commission and does not represent its views.

Huebsch disclosed the text from chairwoman Sally Talberg in accordance with a law prohibiting commissioners from having communications outside the official record for pending cases.

The regional grid operator known as MISO — which in 2011 approved Cardinal-Hickory Creek as one of 17 transmission lines expected to provide reliability, renewable energy and lower energy costs — objected to inclusion of the brief on the grounds that the attorneys general did not follow the rules.

The PSC granted other parties until Aug. 13 to submit responses.

Valcq announced Thursday the PSC will meet at 10:30 a.m. Aug. 20 to discuss the case.

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“Cardinal-Hickory Creek is going to be a significant issue — probably the most significant issue this year.... Two states want to let us know about an issue before us and we should take that under consideration.” Commissioner Mike Huebsch

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