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Iowa regulators dismiss petition to halt work on Cardinal-Hickory Creek power line

By: Nate Beck, [email protected]//April 21, 2022//

Iowa regulators dismiss petition to halt work on Cardinal-Hickory Creek power line

By: Nate Beck, [email protected]//April 21, 2022//

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Iowa regulators rejected a call on Tuesday to halt the construction of a section of the nearly $500 million Cardinal-Hickory Creek transmission line that will run through their state.

In doing so, they dismissed arguments that the utilities behind the project should not be able to proceed without first obtaining a permit to cross a federal wildlife refuge.

The decision came after project opponents had asked the Iowa Utilities Board to order construction to halt on parts of the line running through Iowa and after U.S. District Court Judge William Conley had ruled in January that federal agencies had improperly approved the project’s path through the Upper Mississippi National Wildlife and Fish Refuge, which forms the border between Wisconsin and Iowa.

Work is about 75% complete on the Iowa section of the line, according to utilities building the project. American Transmission Company, ITC Midwest and Dairyland Power Cooperative are jointly developing the 102-mile, 345-kilovolt power line, which is to eventually run from Dane County to Dubuque, Iowa.

In filings to the Iowa Utilities Board, opponents of the Cardinal-Hickory line argued Conley’s federal court ruling in January had deprived utilities of a crucial connection in the wildlife refuge. By proceeding with the work without having permission to cross that area, the utilities pursuing the project were putting taxpayer and ratepayer money at risk.

In its decision Tuesday, the Iowa Utilities Board wrote that legal cases involving the line weren’t directly challenging regulators’ decision to approve the construction of the line and that the project opponents had failed to show why the board should move to block the project.

“This ongoing litigation in federal court is not challenging the Board’s final order,” according to the order. “Because the Motions do not state legal grounds on which the Board may stay construction and the federal litigation does not challenge the Board’s order, the Board will deny the motions.”

In Wisconsin, the ratepayer-advocate group Citizens Utility Board has asked the Wisconsin Public Service Commission to order construction on the Cardinal-Hickory line to stop in light of Conley’s ruling preventing the project from crossing the wildlife refuge. The group argued the utilities behind the project stand to profit from it even if it’s never finished. The PSC hasn’t acted on that request.

Environmental groups including the Wisconsin Wildlife Federation and the Driftless Area Land Conservancy have meanwhile asked the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources to revoke permits it issued for the project, arguing the DNR’s review suffered from the same “fundamental flaws” relied on by federal agencies.

The utilities appealed Conley’s ruling last month, arguing that even a two-month delay in construction could cause WEC Energy Group and Madison Gas & Electric to lose between $15 million and $20 million in 2024. The utilities also argued the Cardinal-Hickory Creek project is meant to provide a crucial connection for large-scale solar farms in the region, including the 300-megawatt Badger Hollow Solar Farm, on which utilities have already spent nearly $400 million.

The federal case is one in a series of legal actions challenging the Cardinal-Hickory Creek project. The Wisconsin Supreme Court, in another case, is weighing whether opponents had the right to question a former PSC member accused of bias in approving the power line.


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