March 22, 2022
ATC: Alissa Braatz
ITC Midwest: Rod Pritchard
Utilities file appeal in federal NEPA case for Cardinal-Hickory Creek Transmission Line Project
Utilities assert project has met federal law requirements to cross the Upper Mississippi National Wildlife and Fish Refuge
American Transmission Co., ITC Midwest and Dairyland Power Cooperative, the co-owners of the Cardinal-Hickory Creek Transmission Line Project, are appealing the Federal District Court’s recent ruling that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) may not approve the proposed crossing of the project in the Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge and that the environmental impact statement for the project by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Utilities Service requires changes. The federal agencies fully complied with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and the USFWS has multiple sources of authority to allow the project to cross the Refuge with appropriate environmental conditions.
The utility co-owners are asking the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit to stay the order of the lower court until the appellate court hears and decides the case.
An exhaustive environmental review was completed to select the crossing of the Refuge and the Mississippi River. The route will reduce environmental impacts in the Refuge by removing and relocating an existing 161-kV line that currently crosses the Refuge and co-locating it with the new 345-kV Cardinal-Hickory Creek line along an existing road, as well as retiring and removing an existing 69-kV line that also currently crosses the Refuge. The net impact will be to reduce the electric transmission footprint in the Refuge and replace existing structures with much shorter structures using an avian-friendly design.
“The Federal Court’s ruling is another example of the mistaken sentiment that the project is detrimental to the environment. In actuality, the Cardinal-Hickory Creek Transmission Line Project is the essential bridge that enables renewable energy to be brought to market, resulting in a significant reduction in carbon emissions,” said ITC Midwest President Dusky Terry. “There is no alternative to electric transmission to economically move power from where it is being generated to the electric consumers who need it. None of the other alternatives – such as battery storage or energy efficiency programs – accomplish that. In fact, distributed generation requires more transmission capacity, not less.”
The Cardinal-Hickory Creek Transmission Line Project was identified as part of a set of Multi-Value Projects (MVPs) by the Midcontinent Independent System Operator (MISO), the independent, not-for-profit regional transmission grid planning agency and transmission system operator for our region. As an MVP, the project is designed to improve transmission system reliability and provide a wide range of benefits, including relieving congestion on the transmission system to reduce energy costs and providing greater access to renewable generation. The project was approved by the Public Service Commission of Wisconsin in September 2019, and by the Iowa Utilities Board in May 2020.
“Following years of study and extensive environmental review, including years of public input, state and federal regulatory agencies granted approvals for this project based on the benefits it provides,” said ATC Director of Construction Sarah Justus. “The Cardinal-Hickory Creek transmission line will help ensure the cost-effective, renewable and reliable energy that consumers are seeking is available and affordable. MISO, Wisconsin regulators and Iowa regulators have determined the project is necessary to reduce energy costs.”
Governments, corporations and other organizations pursuing sustainability goals are fueling the demand for clean, renewable energy. The federal government and states including Wisconsin, Iowa, and Minnesota have all adopted policies to promote the development of renewable energy resources. These goals can only be accomplished by building the necessary electric transmission infrastructure to connect renewable energy production with consumers, notably the Cardinal-Hickory Creek project. The project is expected to reduce regional carbon dioxide emissions by approximately 150,000 to 1.2 million tons per year.
Generation and distribution utilities are depending on the Cardinal-Hickory Creek project to facilitate the region’s transition away from fossil fuels. Traditional baseload generating plants are being retired throughout Wisconsin and the Upper Midwest at an unprecedented pace, especially coal plants. Requests to interconnect new renewable generation sources with the transmission system are at an all-time high while new projects are backlogged due to a lack of transmission capacity. As of November 2021, 114 renewable generation projects totaling nearly 17 gigawatts were dependent upon its construction – enough to power millions of homes with clean energy. The critical role of this project in meeting the region’s energy needs compels the co-owners to ensure it is built for the benefit of electricity consumers by the scheduled in-service date of December 2023.
“The Cardinal-Hickory Creek Transmission Line Project is an essential 345-kV backbone interconnection that will provide a vital link to the future of our region’s renewable energy developments,” said Dairyland Chief Operating Officer Ben Porath. “Its construction and operability will reduce energy costs, improve the reliability and flexibility of the region’s transmission system, and support the interconnection of renewable generation in the Upper Midwest.”
Construction of the approximately 101-mile, 345,000-volt electric transmission line continues to move forward in Iowa and Wisconsin. ITC Midwest began construction on the Iowa project segment outside of the Refuge in April 2021, and ATC began construction in Wisconsin in November 2021. Additional project information is available at www.cardinal-hickorycreek.com.
Formed in 2001 as the nation’s first multi-state transmission-only utility, American Transmission Co. is a Wisconsin-based company that owns and operates more than 10,000 miles of electric transmission lines and approximately 580 substations in portions of Wisconsin, Michigan, Minnesota and Illinois. Our transmission network enables the movement of electricity produced from all forms of generation resources to areas where it is needed – helping to keep the lights on, businesses running and communities strong. Visit our website at www.atcllc.com.
About ITC Midwest
ITC Midwest LLC is a subsidiary of ITC Holdings Corp., the largest independent electricity transmission company in the U.S. ITC Midwest operates more than 6,600 circuit miles of transmission lines in Iowa, Minnesota, Illinois and Missouri, and holds utility status in Wisconsin. ITC Midwest is headquartered in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and maintains regional operating facilities in Dubuque, Iowa City and Perry, Iowa; and Albert Lea and Lakefield, Minnesota. For further information visit www.itc-holdings.com. ITC is a subsidiary of Fortis Inc., a leader in the North American regulated electric and gas utility industry. For further information visit www.fortisinc.com.
About Dairyland Power
Dairyland Power Cooperative, with headquarters in La Crosse, Wisconsin, provides wholesale electricity to 24-member distribution cooperatives and 17 municipal utilities. A Touchstone Energy Cooperative, Dairyland’s service area encompasses 62 counties in Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa and Illinois. For more information, please visit www.dairylandpower.com.