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Cardinal-Hickory Creek -- Contrary to our Mission

Cardinal-Hickory Creek -- Contrary to our Mission

The American Transmission Company (ATC), ITC and Dairyland Power Cooperative applied for a permit to construct a massive 125-mile transmission line running from Middleton, WI to Dubuque County, IA called the Cardinal-Hickory Creek (CHC) Transmission Line.  Responding to the rallying cry of hundreds of citizens in southwest Wisconsin, DALC took a leadership role in organizing the growing grassroots opposition to the line.  We hired the experienced team of renewable energy experts at the Environmental Law and Policy Center to help us sort through the data and collect information.  We learned through reliable models of likely future energy demand and costs confirm the testimonies provided by knowledgeable economic and energy experts that this line is a bad idea.

 

The Cardinal Hickory Creek Transmission Line:

 

  • IS NOT Needed – CHC is not needed to “keep the lights on.”  Wisconsin’s electrical grid is already very reliable, and energy use projections remain flat or declining.

  • IS NOT a Green Energy line – The CHC would be an “open access” transmission line, meaning it would carry whatever electricity is on the grid. Citizens Utility Board expert Mary Neal testified in the PSC proceeding that the line could actually cause an increase in fossil fuel generation.

  • LACKS Robust Environmental Analysis - The Environmental Impact Statements require that the agencies consider the environmental impacts from the transmission line.  The agencies did not adequately consider, discuss and disclose important impacts, such as destruction of sensitive environmental areas and rare species and risks to migratory birds. Further, the agencies are relying heavily on information and assertions from the developers and their consultants. The fox is guarding the henhouse!

  • HAS BETTER Alternatives – Modern, local solar generation that doesn’t require costly transmission along with battery storage, demand response, distributed generation, and energy efficiency improvements are revolutionizing 21st century energy systems.

  • IS COUNTER to Expert Analysis – The Wisconsin Public Service Commission’s own staff testified that the costs of the proposed CHC transmission line exceed its benefits in 8 of 11 modeled scenarios. Further, Commission staff testified that the “base with asset renewal” alternative could reasonably be a better, less costly, less environmentally damaging and more feasible solution.

  • IS EXPENSIVE – The developers want to use ratepayers’ money to build a project that lines their pockets with a guaranteed 10.2% annual return, with a total cost of around $2 billion over the life of the project.

 

Holding true to our mission, DALC is continuing our fight to prevent this dinosaur-aged technology from ruining the beautiful Driftless Area.  We’re convinced that better 21st century, less expensive alternatives will provide a brighter future for Southwest Wisconsin.  

 

Knowledgeable Experts Oppose CHC

During the formal review of the project in 2019, eight expert witnesses testified on behalf of Driftless Area Land Conservancy and Wisconsin Wildlife Federation in front of the Wisconsin Public Service Commission.  They presented a compelling case in opposition to the project.  We’re very grateful to: Kerinia Cusick, George Meyer, Rao Konidena, Curt Meine, Jon Wellinghof, Don Waller, Mihir Desu, and Terry Ingram.  Their testimonies affirmed that a clean, economically viable, reliable energy future is possible without Cardinal-Hickory Creek.  We can avoid the destruction of a large track of our nationally significant Driftless Region.

The full text of our expert witness testimonies are available upon request.

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“There are multiple options before us—ways to conserve and to develop clean and sustainable energy—that can serve the Driftless Area and all the landscapes beyond it. We must strive together for energy solutions that do not sacrifice other conservation goals and degrade the quality of our land. The decision on this proposed powerline is a test. It will show if we as a society are willing to resist the easy path of expediency and short-term profit. It will show that we can do the hard and necessary thing: meeting current needs in innovative ways that also and simultaneously protect the quality of the land that sustains us.” - Curt Meine

 Conservation Biologist, Environmental Historian, Writer, Adjunct Faculty at UW-Madison

and Senior Fellow with the Center for Humans and Nature.

Dane County Circuit Court - Initial Briefs

These briefs are challenging the merits of the Public Service Commission's approval of the Cardinal-Hickory Creek transmission line and argue that in a broad range of aspects, the PSC decision did not comply with legal standards. 

 

Wisconsin Public Service Commission’s Decision and DALC’s Response

In spite of overwhelming public opposition, modeling by the Commission’s own staff, and the compelling testimony of expert witness, the Wisconsin Public Service Commission (PSC) has approved this project.   Nevertheless, we are convinced that CHC is not in the public interest and that there are viable opportunities to stop this project through the court system. DALC is working closely with the Environmental Law & Policy Center, a highly reputable Midwest non-profit environment and natural heritage law firm to appeal this decision in both the state circuit court and in federal court.  As of early 2020, these proceedings are just beginning to unfold.  We will post updates as they develop.

Circuit Court Rules in DALC's Favor

Circuit Court Judge Jacob Frost issued a ruling in our favor on May 26, 2021.  We have long asserted that that Commissioner Mike Huebsch had a perceived conflict of interest that biased his ruling in favor of the Cardinal Hickory Creek transmission line.  This ruling is a huge victory for the case against ATC and the CHC line.  “Essentially the judge said there’s a lot of smoke, and we’re entitled to make our case that there is fire.” Read the full decision here.  

 

How You Can Help

  • Write a Letter to the Editor (LTE) – It’s important to keep this issue in front of the “Court of Public Opinion.”  Judges and their staff members need to be reminded of the overwhelming public opposition to CHC.  Letters to the local and Madison area newspapers are very helpful in this regard. 

  • Attend Court Sessions – Join our email list or stay tuned to Facebook. We’ll let you know when it’s helpful to attend.

  • Thank Iowa and Dane County Board Members – Supervisors from both of these counties have voted to commit resources to their own court challenges to CHC.  Consider thanking them at a public meeting.  It’s important for them to know the public supports their action.  Your presence and expression of appreciate also helps keep the issue in the public’s eye.

  • Make a Donation – The financial support of our members and major donors has been phenomenal and your ongoing support allows us to continue our work in protecting the unique Driftless Area.  Thank you! Donate online or call (608) 930-3252. 

For additional information concerning the CHC legal appeals please contact Chuck Tennessen.

 
 

Information for Landowners Under the CHC Line:

Landowners on the Cardinal-Hickory Creek route:

You will be contacted by the developers.  How you respond will affect the disposition of your land now and on into the future.

It is strongly suggested that you don’t sign anything until you’ve consulted an attorney and/or land appraiser.

Helpful Details

  • Driftless Area Land Conservancy (DALC), Wisconsin Wildlife Federation, Iowa and Dane Counties and others are appealing the decision of the Public Service Commission.  If successful in the courts, this project will be stopped or postponed.   Federal permitting and other processes are also continuing.

 

  • Even as the appeals and other processes move forward at the Federal level, the developers - ITC, ATC and others - are contacting individual landowners to begin the easement-signing process.

 

  • You have rights with respect to your land!  You do not have to sign any documents as presented. It’s strongly advised that you consult with an attorney regarding the contract and any other requests by the transmission company or their agents.

 

  • The developers’ agents will likely ply you with many misleading or partially false reasons to sign such as:

    • It’s to the landowner’s advantage and will be easier to sign early.

    • ​​The neighbors are all signing up.

    • Bonuses are available for early signers.  Don’t Take the Bait!  We strongly suggest you make no decisions until you’ve learned more through an attorney, land appraiser of other resources. 

NOTE:  In similar situations, some landowners have been awarded much more by a court than was offered by the transmission company. 

 

Click here for more on Right of Ways and Easements – PSC Document

It contains more information about what an easement is and your rights. The document is not short, but it does have a table of contents that you can use to help navigate. Here are a few highlights:

  • An easement between a transmission owner and a landowner is a legal contract that allows the transmission owner to build and maintain the power line.  It sets forth the rights of the transmission company and the landowner with respect to the property.

  • Any easement will run with the land and impact future landowners.

  • In a typical negotiation, a transmission owner’s agent presents a landowner with a draft easement and an estimate of the value of the Right of Way (ROW) it wants to purchase. The landowner has the right to negotiate both the terms and the amount to be paid.

  • The landowner has the right to have his or her own appraisal made by a qualified appraiser. The reasonable cost of this appraisal must be reimbursed by the transmission owner if: (1) it is submitted to the utility within 60 days after receipt of the utility’s appraisal; and (2) it meets the standards under Wisconsin law.

  • There is nothing barring one landowner along a proposed transmission route from discussing easement concerns with other landowners before signing.

  • Landowners have certain rights under the law that they do not have to waive.  The document lists these. However, the transmission company may still ask you to waive these rights. Look for items that are crossed out or specified as "waived."

Our Rationale for Opposing the CHC

It is evident that we are against this line, so what do we stand for? 
What does a sustainable energy future, compatible with conservation,
look like in the Driftless area of Wisconsin?

We are exploring the Energy District model for Iowa County and beyond.
Learn more or contact our Community Organizer, Chuck Tennessen, to see how you can be a part of this groundbreaking, locally-generated, renewable energy project.