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Cardinal-Hickory Creek protest

Opponents protest a proposed high-voltage power line Wednesday afternoon outside the offices of the Wisconsin Public Service Commission in the Hill Farms State Office Building. Dozens of people testified against the $500 million project during a public hearing Wednesday, calling the line an unneeded blight on the Driftless region of southwestern Wisconsin.

Armed with signs, talking points, and even a diorama, dozens of people showed up at the first of two public hearings Wednesday to denounce a proposed power line project through southwestern Wisconsin.

One after another they called the Cardinal-Hickory Creek power line an unneeded blight on the landscape and a detriment to the environment, property values and economic activity in the Driftless region.

Cardinal-Hickory Creek transmission line

Building the 100-mile line — with “monstrous towers ruining the views” between Dubuque and Middleton — would be a tragedy, Tamlyn Akins, an artist from the town of Vermont, said at the hearing.

Ryan Czyzewski, a trustee for the village of Mount Horeb, said his constituents fear the impact of the line on property values and noted that one of the proposed routes cuts through areas designated for growth.

“This is a recipe for financial disaster,” he said.

David Lucey, a retired teacher from the town of Berry and director of the Black Earth Creek Watershed Association, said Wisconsin needs new ways to confront climate change.

“I challenge us to come up with a solution to this problem that doesn’t guarantee we do things as we have in the past,” he said. “I’m confident we can do better and the (Wisconsin Public Service Commission) will be critical in making that happen.”

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A joint venture of American Transmission Co., ITC Midwest and Dairyland Power Cooperative, the line has an estimated cost of about $500 million, which would be shared by ratepayers in 12 states, with about $67 million falling to Wisconsin.

The utilities behind the project and some environmental groups say the line would deliver cheap, clean, wind energy from Iowa, saving ratepayers money. Opponents question the public value, saying it would enable little new renewable energy, damage important conservation areas, and result in minimal ratepayer savings.

About 75 opponents to the proposal assembled before the hearing outside the state Public Service Commission’s headquarters in the Hill Farms State Office Building, where a series of speakers denounced the line and encouraged regulators to consider alternatives such as Wisconsin-based renewable energy.

Dane County Sup. Pat Downing, of Blanchardville, told the pre-hearing group that the commission should deny the line.

Mount Horeb School District Superintendent Steve Salerno, who said it’s his job to protect some 2,515 students from external threats, said, “Never did I think that threat would come from a company seeking to make millions and millions of dollars off a need that’s just not there.

“We owe it to them to do better,” Salerno told the group.

“We’re here because we believe in this area and love this land,” said Dena Kurt, a Wisconsin resident who said she represents several Iowa farmers. “This is antiquated technology and antiquated thinking from the 1990s to address a 21st-century problem.”

Public testimony collected at a series of hearings will be included in the official record that will be reviewed by the three commissioners.

About 200 people attended a pair of hearings Tuesday in Lancaster. Two more hearings are scheduled Thursday in Dodgeville. The PSC also has received 654 written comments.

It’s up to the PSC to determine if the project is in the public interest and, if so, which route it should follow.

The commission has until Sept. 30 to approve or deny the application. Regulators in Iowa are expected to decide in December on the 15-mile section west of the Mississippi River.

It would be the third such transmission line built through western Wisconsin since 2015, when Xcel Energy and its partners completed a 90-mile line along the Mississippi River between Alma and Holmen.

The second line, known as Badger Coulee, runs between Holmen and Middleton. It was completed last year at a cost of about $535 million and in spite of a legal challenge that ended in appellate court.

Jon Aleckson urged the commission not to allow this one.

Aleckson, founder and CEO of the Madison company Web Courseworks, said at the hearing that he can afford the loss of value to his home in the town of Springdale, but many others can’t.

“This is the project to tap the brakes,” he said. “On second thought, just slam the brakes.”

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Covers energy and the environment for the Wisconsin State Journal. Rhymes with Lubbock. Contact him at 608-252-6146.