Frequently Asked Questions

About ATC and the Cardinal-Hickory Creek Transmission Line

Important Terms

Base load – The base load on a grid is the minimum level of demand on an electrical grid over a span of time, for example, one week. Base load power sources are power stations which can economically generate the electrical power needed to satisfy this minimum demand.

Energy storagethe capture of energy at one time for use at a later time.  Solar batteries are great examples of energy storage.

Demand response, demand-side management (DSM), or demand-side response (DSR) provides an opportunity for consumers to play a significant role in the operation of the electric grid by reducing or shifting their electricity usage during peak periods in response to time-based rates or other forms of financial incentives. 

Distributed Generation (DG) – is an approach that employs small-scale technologies to produce electricity close to the end users of power. DG technologies often consist of modular (and sometimes renewable-energy) generators, and they offer a number of potential benefits.

Distributed generation – refers to power generation on-site, rather than centrally. In many instances, this can reduce the cost, complexity, interdependencies, and inefficiencies that often accompany transmission and distribution. Examples of DG include wind turbines, geothermal energy production, solar systems (photovoltaic and combustion), and some hydro-thermal plants.

Electromagnetic Field (EMF) – The term electromagnetic field refers to the electric and/or magnetic fields created wherever electric power is being used. Examples of everyday sources of electric and magnetic fields in the home are appliances, televisions, computers, and standard electrical wiring. EMFs emitted by outdoor transmission lines are typically higher than those emitted by home sources or appliances because their voltage is higher.

Load managementis the same as demand-side management.

Microgrid – “is a small-scale power grid that can operate independently or in conjunction with the area’s main electrical grid. Any small-scale localized station with its own power resources, generation and loads and definable boundaries qualifies as a microgrid.”

Non-Transmission AlternativesNTAs are programs and technologies that complement and improve operation of existing transmission systems that individually or in combination defer or eliminate the need for upgrades to the transmission system  Examples of Non-transmission alternatives include improved energy efficiency, load management, and distributed generation technologies.

Transmission Lines – Facilities comprised of conductors (wires), poles, insulators, and interconnection and substation components such as transformers and switches used in the transport of electrical power over longer distances; classified in two scales. Low Voltage transmission lines carry voltages ranging from 69,000 volts to 161,000 volts (69 kV-161 kV); High Voltage Transmission lines carry voltages ranging from 230 kV to 765 kV (230 kV-765 kV).

The largest facilities used in Wisconsin to date are 345 kV lines. “Expansion” transmission lines are new, high capacity additions to the grid that are not designed to provide an adequate supply of power- a function being met by existing facilities.  Utility interests argue that “expansion” lines can enable lower energy costs and increase access to remote renewable energy, but neither can be guaranteed under current grid operation policies (more on this below).

Eight, high capacity, 345 kV expansion transmission facilities have been added to the Wisconsin grid since 2006. Over this period, Wisconsin electricity costs have increased at record pace and carbon emissions remain largely unchanged.

Transmission Congestion/Congestion Costs –  Prior to 1998, nearly all electricity sold in the United States was produced by one’s own utility and transported on lines owned by one’s utility. In 1998, FERC Order 888 enforced a “transmission open access” policy enabling all transmission lines to be used by all utilities in exchange for tariff charges.   The justification for this change was founded on differences in costs of producing electricity at that time.  It was reasoned that savings would be passed to electricity customers if their utilities were allowed to purchase lower cost power outside of their service territories. It wasn’t too long before demand for some transmission lines approached their carrying limits at certain times. This new phenomenon is called, “congestion.”

By the time U.S. electricity use reached its historical peak in 2007-2008, many new transmission lines had been added to the grid greatly reducing the occurrence and amounts of congestion.  Further, as lower cost energy was accessed, differences in the cost of electricity leveled out.  In 2005, American Transmission Company, who became Wisconsin’s largest transmission owner/operator, commented that state electricity costs due to congestion averaged about 20% higher than in adjacent states. By 2007, this had dropped to a price difference of about 5%. A recent ATC report indicates interstate price difference due to congestion at very low levels, about 1%.

Who is proposing to build the high-voltage Cardinal-Hickory Creek line?

American Transmission Company (ATC), ITC Midwest, and Dairyland Power Cooperative are proposing to build the 125-mile, 345 kilovolt high-voltage Cardinal-Hickory Creek transmission line connecting northeast Iowa and western Wisconsin.

What is the proposed path of the high-voltage Cardinal-Hickory Creek line?

The high-voltage Cardinal-Hickory Creek line would begin in Dubuque County, Iowa, cross the Mississippi river, continue into the protected Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge, then cut through the Driftless region of southern Wisconsin, and finally end in Middleton, just west of Madison.  If approved, the Cardinal-Hickory Creek line will be the 8th transmission expansion line approved in the past 10 years.

What is ATC?

American Transmission Company (ATC) is a privately owned company.  Ownership of the company includes utilities, municipalities, municipal electric companies, and electric cooperatives from Wisconsin, Michigan, Minnesota, and Illinois.  Wisconsin Power & Light and Madison Gas & Electric are included in this group.  As part owners, these entities will benefit greatly from the guaranteed 10%+ rate of return if the high-voltage Cardinal-Hickory Creek line is approved and built.

What is MISO?

MISO stands for Midcontinent Independent System Operator.  MISO is a regional transmission planning organization whose area covers much of the Midwest and Great Plains.  MISO’s membership list includes ATC, Dairyland Power Cooperative, ITC Midwest, Alliant Energy, Madison Gas & Electric, and Wisconsin Electric Power Co. (

What is FERC?

FERC stands for the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.  FERC “is an independent agency that regulates the interstate transmission of electricity, natural gas, and oil. . . “     Although it was put in place by Congress, its operations are largely autonomous and paid for entirely by annual charges and filing fees levied on the industries it regulates. FERC is the agency that establishes the very profitable guaranteed rates-of-return for utility capital investments, thereby creating strong profit incentives and effectively protecting transmission companies and their shareholders from financial risk.

What is the PSC?

The Public Service Commission of Wisconsin is a state agency whose mission is to “Oversee and facilitate the efficient and fair provision of quality utility services in Wisconsin.” The PSC’s mandate includes but is not limited to:

  • ENSURING FAIR PRICING for utility services to customers and to utility investors;
  • ENSURING utility services are provided in an efficient AND environmentally responsible manner; PROTECTING the interests of both investors and customers and ensuring that securities issued by utilities meet the needs of the utilities; PROVIDING FAIRNESS in transactions between utilities and their customers, other utilities, and other entities specifically provided protection by law;
  • ADJUSTING oversight of utilities according to the level of competition in their markets and according to the degree of customer satisfaction with their services;
  • EDUCATING Wisconsin citizens on utility issues and promoting their involvement in the decision-making process.
  • Ensuring QUALITY as defined by customers’ needs;

PSC Vision:

What reasons does ATC give for building the line?

According to ATC, the high-voltage Cardinal-Hickory Creek line will provide the following benefits:

1) It will improve local and regional electric system reliability.

2) It will bring economic benefits to utilities and electric consumers.

3) It will facilitate a greater use of renewables by expanding infrastructure.

What is MISO’s role in the decision to build the high-voltage Cardinal-Hickory Creek line?

As noted above, MISO’s membership includes ATC, Dairyland Power Cooperative, and ITC Midwest, regional transmission companies that stand to benefit from the guaranteed 10%+ rate-of-return from building the high-voltage Cardinal-Hickory Creek line.


In 2011, MISO established a “Multi-Value Project” (“MVP”) portfolio that included 17 lines, the last of which to be built is the Cardinal-Hickory Creek line.  When MISO established the need for the 17 lines, it did not do so on a line-by-line basis.  Rather, it used projected demand and energy growth rates for the entire MISO region, that is, 17 separate projects.


This approach ignores the fact that projected demand and energy growth rates differ across the region.  Wisconsin’s situation is very different from that of Arkansas or North Dakota. (Environmental Law and Policy Center (ELPC) report to Wisconsin policymakers and concerned public, October 16, 2016, p. 19)

Are the reasons ATC gives for building the Cardinal-Hickory Creek line valid?

Let’s look at each of the reasons ATC gives for building the high-voltage Cardinal-Hickory Creek line:

Local and regional electric system reliability – ATC claims transmission expansion is the best way to achieve electric system reliability.  However, most power outages occur in the distribution portion of the grid, not the transmission portion.  Transmission expansion will do nothing to improve reliability in that regard. Furthermore, the larger and more centralized is the grid, the greater its vulnerability to severe weather conditions and cyber-attacks.  Finally, the most cost-effective way of meeting peak electricity demand is through energy efficiency, demand response, local wind power projects, solar energy development, and energy storage.  Demand response refers to the reduction or shift in electricity usage during peak periods on the part of consumers in response to some form of financial incentive (see Lazard’s Levelized Cost of Energy Analysis).  (Environmental Law and Policy Center (ELPC) report to Wisconsin policymakers and concerned public, October 16, 2016, p. 22)

Provide Potential Economic benefits for utilities and electric consumers – It’s true that the Cardinal-Hickory Creek high-voltage transmission line would directly benefit Wisconsin’s largest utility companies because they own portions of American Transmission Company, the entity which  would own about half of the Cardinal Hickory Creek project and a large portion of its proceeds.

The fact that Wisconsin’s existing transmission lines are not being used close to capacity and that demand for electricity is flat significantly reduces any potential for additional transmission lines to lower congestion costs and provide savings. Differences  in interstate power costs are on the order of 1% and Wisconsin utilities recently projected less use of interstate electricity in coming years.  So while construction of large, high voltage transmission lines provide important economic benefits to utility companies, electricity consumers are seeing  a large portion of their bills going to pay off the capital debt– a large part from excessive spending on transmission expansion.  On an average, monthly electric bill of $110, over 50% of the bill goes to pay off capital expenses 30% for  fuel costs, and 15% to pay utility services.

When utility interests use the term, “economic savings” in relation to transmission proposals, they are estimating  potential net savings relative to taking no action over 30-40 years. These “savings” should not be construed as actual reductions in utility bills. The “net savings” is the difference after many millions are invested upfront in the transmission project and potential reductions from a variety of costs factored in. The potential cost reductions are in large part dependent on energy use increasing over 30-40 years. The transmission applicants are free to project increasing energy use because the Wisconsin PSC has not been requiring confirmation of these projections by impartial parties.  Even with projections assuming energy use will steadily increase, the potential net energy savings that ATC/Xcel estimated for the 345 kV Badger-Coulee transmission line are razor thin– on the order of 5 to 15 cents per month under slow growth conditions.  For comparison, the guaranteed savings of replacing a single, 60 watt, incandescent light bulb with a $2 LED bulb are about 50 cents per month.

Greater use of renewables by expanding infrastructure MISO and ATC have not provided information on the relative proportions of coal-generated electricity and wind-generated electricity that will be carried by the proposed Cardinal-Hickory Creek line.

Indeed, because Wisconsin’s Renewable Portfolio Standard (which sets the required level of state usage of renewable energy) has been set at 10%, and this target is currently being met, transmission expansion is not likely to increase demand for remote renewables transported over long distances.

Moreover, it’s important to understand that ATC is an open-access AC line (alternative current) which allows power plants and other lines to “tie in” along the way.  ATC and ITC will likely contract with the electricity supplier that pays the highest.  Environmentally harmful lignite coal plants in North Dakota and fossil fuel plants in other states are eager to export their surplus electricity to Wisconsin, especially since local utilities in Iowa and Minnesota are developing more in-state wind power and therefore reducing their demand for out-of-state energy. (ELPC report and more detailed explanations can be found at


What are the real reasons behind the push for transmission expansion?

Brief summary: Beginning in the late 1990’s, FERC established financial incentives for utilities building transmission lines by guaranteeing rates of return ranging between  10 and 13%.  These highly profitable rates of return have rendered transmission builders free and clear of financial risk, as all costs for building, financing, operating, maintaining, and securing transmission lines up to 75 years are assumed by electric customers.  This policy combined with the passage of Act 204 of 1997 making it unnecessary for utility proposals to undergo competitive comparisons with other energy solutions, has led to capital utility investments that have not only caused electricity costs to skyrocket, but that are also directly competing with communities being able to develop local solar resources and to improve energy efficiency.

According to a 2016 comment by Howard Learner, executive director of Environmental Law and Policy Center (ELPC), speaking at a July  2016 meeting of Driftless Defenders.

“most people wrongly assume that electric utilities make most of their profit by selling power. They don’t, they make money by putting steel in the ground.”

FERC, as mentioned above, sets high mortgage interest rates to guarantee transmission companies and their utility company shareholders low financial risk and high rates-of-return, in excess of 10%.  As a result, there is little incentive for these companies to invest in high efficiency, low-cost projects that directly benefit consumers and their communities.

Utility shareholders understand that their profits come directly from large-scale coal, natural gas, wind, and solar projects that lead to increased electricity sales and that require high yielding capital investments in transmission expansion.

According to SOUL Wisconsin, prior to 1998, Wisconsin law required that there be a competitive bid process with energy efficiency, load management, and local power.  With that legal stipulation removed after 1998, the incentive to invest in capital-intensive utility projects such as transmission lines and power plants rose dramatically.  What also rose substantially were consumer electricity rates and fees because of the high interest debt for such investments.

Utility shareholders are fully aware that competition from customer-owned, distributed wind and solar projects could undermine the viability of their business model.

A study of the impacts of customer-sited photovoltaics on the average achieved return on investment, earnings, and retail rates for a hypothetical Northeast utility shows that when solar provides 10% of electricity, utility returns on equity fall by 18%. To address the impending threat of customer-owned distributed wind and solar projects, utilities are pushing back against trends like net metering that support distributed energy projects nationwide.

What would the high-voltage Cardinal-Hickory Creek line cost consumers?

The Cardinal-Hickory Creek high-voltage transmission line, if built, would cost consumers roughly $1 billion dollars over a 30-40 year period.  In addition to covering construction, operation, and maintenance costs, this amount includes compensating landowners for land sold or forcibly condemned, compensating local municipalities for economic, social, and environmental impacts from the transmission line, and financing the high interest debt for this capital-intensive project. 

Is there any legal framework for regulating the approval and construction of high-voltage power lines in Wisconsin?

Brief summary: When selecting options to meet energy demands, the Wisconsin Energy Priorities Law directs the PSC to account for the cost effectiveness of energy conservation and efficiency, noncombustible renewable energy resources, combustible renewable energy resources, and nonrenewable combustible energy resources, in that order.  By failing to conduct a cost-benefit analysis of law-required, customer-preferred, energy investments in the review process, the PSC is failing to uphold the Wisconsin Energy Priorities Law. 

Wisconsin law requires that before a transmission project can be sited and built, it must be established that there is a reasonable need for additional electricity.  If that need is established, Wisconsin law then requires that it be met with energy conservation and efficiency methods first, followed by renewable energy sources such as wind and solar. (Wis. Stat. 196.491(3)(d)) (Wis. Stat. 1.12(4))

Under Wisconsin Law, the Public Service Commission can only approve an application for the necessary Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity (CPCN, needed to move forward with any power line project) if a proposed project can meet three criteria:

1) the proposed project must demonstrate that it is needed to satisfy the reasonable electric energy needs of the public;

2) the proposed project must demonstrate that it provides ‘usage, service or increased regional reliability benefits to the wholesale and retail customers or members in this state’;

3) the proposed project must demonstrate that ‘the benefits of the high-voltage transmission line are reasonable in relation to the cost of the high-voltage transmission line.’ (Wis. Stat. 196.491(3)(d)).  (ELPC, p. 10)

Moreover, the Wisconsin Energy Priorities Law prioritizes the criteria to use when selecting options to meet energy demands.  These priorities are as follows:

1) “Energy conservation and efficiency”

2) “Noncombustible renewable energy resources”

3) “Combustible renewable energy resources”

4) “Nonrenewable combustible energy resources” (Wis. Stat. 1.12(4)) (ELPC, p. 22)

In other words, Wisconsin must apply energy efficiency and conservation methods first in meeting its energy demand.  If additional demand exists, this should be met through renewable energy resources, such as wind power and solar energy.  (ELPC, p. 22)


What are Wisconsin’s siting standards for proposed new transmission lines?

Wisconsin Transmission Siting  Priorities law* states, “to the greatest extent feasible that is consistent with economic and engineering considerations, reliability of the electric system, and protection of the environment, the following corridors should be utilized in the following order of priority:

  1. Existing utility corridors
  2. Highway and railroad corridors
  3. Recreational trails, to the extent that the facilities may be constructed below ground and that the facilities do not significantly impact environmentally sensitive areas.
  4. New corridors.”

Recreational trails are only to be used if the transmission line is built underground and has no adverse impact on sensitive sites.  Wisconsin siting laws for new proposed transmission corridors clearly seek to protect the state’s natural and cultural resources from “undue adverse impacts.” (ELPC 25)

Have any similar transmission projects ever been stopped?

Yes, there are numerous cases of successful opposition to transmission line projects.  Recently, opposition to the huge, 500 mile-long Rock Island Clean Line (RICL) that would have cut across Iowa into Illinois was successful in forcing RICL to withdraw its application to the Iowa Utilities Board, pending outcome of an Illinois Supreme Court decision on the line.  A law suit brought by farm groups and Exelon reversed a finding that RICL was a “public utility” with consequent powers of eminent domain.

Other examples of successful opposition include the ‘Mark Twain’ line in Missouri, The ‘Misty’ line in Montana, the ‘SWEPCO’ line in Arkansas, and the three ‘clean lines’ in Missouri, Illinois, and Iowa.  The strategies employed to stop these lines included political pressure, demonstration of lack of need, and permit rejection.  (Rob Danielson, Arena, CHC slide show, December 15, 2016).

What sensitive sites would the proposed high-voltage Cardinal-Hickory Creek line affect along the northern and southern corridors?

The northern route would pass through the Blackhawk Lake Recreation Area and green fields to the east.  It would then pass alongside the northern border of Governor Dodge State Park.  The line would also traverse the Dodgeville and Wyoming Oak Woodlands/Savanna Conservation Opportunity Area located along County Roads Z and ZZ.  The proposed corridor then would turn east through twenty miles or so of green area hills, bluffs, and valleys of high conservation value before cutting through the Black Earth Creek Watershed Area. (ELPC, p. 27)

The southern route would pass south of Platteville and then follow and cut across the Pecatonica State Trail. East of Montfort there are two proposed corridors that run parallel to each other 1-3 miles apart.  While there are existing transmission lines along these two corridors, the fact that the green field corridor between these two parallel routes is included in the proposed corridor suggests that the proposed high-voltage Cardinal-Hickory Creek line would potentially be installed in areas other than where there currently are existing lines.  East of Dodgeville the two corridors meet and continue east and north for about 25 miles along the northern edge of the Military Ridge Prairie Heritage Area and the Southwest Wisconsin Grasslands and Stream Conservation Area.

The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources considers the Military Ridge Prairie Heritage Area to be of the utmost priority for landscape-scale grassland protection and management, and this area has been identified by the Nature Conservancy as critical for the protection of Midwest prairie remnants and area-sensitive species, such as grassland birds.

Near the villages of Ridgeway, Barneveld, and Blue Mounds, the line also passes close to the Military Ridge State Trail, open to the public for biking, running, and hiking.  The plan is to extend this 40-mile bike trail to create a Dodgeville-Madison-Milwaukee bike trail expected to attract up to 300,000 riders a year. (ELPC, pp. 28-29)

The affected areas mentioned above do not include all the environmentally sensitive and protected conservation areas that would be impacted by the high-voltage Cardinal-Hickory Creek line.  Other areas include the Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge, the Grant River, the Platte River, the Jack Oak Slough, the Cassville Slough, Blue Mound State Park, Pleasant Valley Conservancy State Natural Area, Belmont Prairie State Natural Area, and Erbe Grassland Preserve.  The proposed high-voltage Cardinal-Hickory Creek line would also cross over twenty classified streams in Dane and Iowa Counties.

What adverse environmental impacts would the high-voltage Cardinal-Hickory Creek line have?

According to the US department of Agriculture, the Driftless Area’s “diversity of habitat provides critical habitat for dozens of species of concern in the State Wildlife Action Plans, and has been cited as one of North America’s most important resources.”

(U.S. Department of Agriculture, Regional Conservation Partnership Program, Investing in Wisconsin – 2016, “Driftless Area – Habitat for the Wild and Rare”)

Assorted populations of birds, insects, amphibians, reptiles, and plants find their habitat in the area’s “southern sedge meadows, oak openings and barrens, pine relicts, dry prairies, mesic and dry-mesic forests, fast and cold streams, dry and moist cliffs, and forested seeps.” (ELPC, p. 31)   Many of these animal and plant populations are currently threatened.  Construction of the high-voltage Cardinal-Hickory Creek line would place these populations at additional risk.

Henslow’s Sparrow is a Wisconsin threatened species and found in 12 of the 16 townships or ranges through which the transmission line would run.  The Loggerhead Shrike, a state endangered species is found in 2 of the 16 townships or ranges in Dane and Iowa Counties.  Other threatened bird species in the area include the Acadian Flycatcher, Bell’s Vireo, Cerulean Warbler, Hooded Warbler, and Upland Sandpiper.

Also impacted by the proposed transmission line would be the rare Rusty-Patched Bumble Bee and the state-endangered Regal Fritillary butterfly.  The line could compromise other endangered and at-risk species, such as the Pleistocene Snail, Blanchard’s Cricket Frog, Pickerel Frog, Blanding’s Turtle, Ornate Box Turtle, Lake Sturgeon, Lake Chubsucker, and Pugnosed Shiner.

Waterfowl are particularly hard hit by transmission lines.  Collision with or electrocution by high-voltage lines kills millions of birds each year.   The Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge, with its large populations of waterfowl, would be particularly hard hit. (Scott R. Loss et al., Refining Estimates of Bird Collision and Electrocution Mortality at Power Lines in the United States, PloS ONE, 9(7): e101565 (2014))

The USF&WS and Wisconsin’s Dept. of Natural Resources should also be able to assess similar risks to bald eagles, as there are 51 active bald eagle nests in the four counties where the proposed transmission line would run, more than half of those nests being within townships in the transmission corridors.

Construction of transmission lines also involves clear cutting and regular application of herbicides to keep easements free of brush and trees.  This not only impacts the plants on which animals forage but also the ground water. And once an easement is established, it can become the target of oil and gas developers to establish underground oil and gas lines.

Cultural and historical sites would also be vulnerable should the high-voltage Cardinal-Hickory Creek line be built.  Sacred sites, pottery, arrowheads, artificial mounds, and other important historical relics from the Archaic, Woodland, and Mississippian periods could easily be damaged by the heavy equipment used to construct the lines.

What adverse health impacts would the high-voltage Cardinal-Hickory Creek line have?

There is no clear consensus on this question.  According to a 2016 report by the Health Physics Society, “…there are no known health risks that have been conclusively demonstrated to be caused by living near high-voltage power lines. But science is unable to prove a negative, including whether low-level EMFs are completely risk free. Most scientists believe that exposure to the low-level EMFs near power lines is safe, but some scientists continue research to look for possible health risks associated with these fields. If there are any risks such as cancer associated with living near power lines, then it is clear that those risks are small.”

However, in the Bioinitiative Report, compiled by an international group of scientists, researchers, and public health policy professionals on the biological effects of EMFs (electromagnetic fields), the content and implications of approximately 1800 new studies are summarized, and the conclusion drawn is that there is “scientific evidence of risk from chronic exposure to low-intensity electromagnetic fields”, such as emanate from transmission lines.…/sec01_2012_summary_for_public.pdf

Furthermore, there is strong concern among dairy farmers that stray voltage from high-voltage power lines causes increases in somatic cell counts, greater nervousness in cows, reduced milk production, and a higher incidence of clinical mastitis.

What adverse impacts would the high-voltage Cardinal-Hickory Creek line have on property values, tourism, and rural development?

Transmission lines have been shown to have significant negative impacts on property values.  A 2012 study in Montana on the effects of large transmission lines on property values, revealed a drop of approximately 15% in property values, even when the property was as far as 1000 ft from the transmission line. (James A. Chalmers, transmission Line Impacts on Rural Property Value, Right of Way (May/June 2012))

A Wisconsin report by Kurt Kielisch, “Valuation Guidelines for Properties with Electric Transmission Lines,” notes that the negative impact of high-voltage transmission lines on Wisconsin property values can range from -10% to -30% depending on such factors as the size of the line and its proximity to the property.

The TELIS project (Transparent Electrical Line Impact Studies) is a recent effort to gain access to the data sets used to study the value impact of high-voltage electric transmission lines on different property types.  The TELIS project is an important independent attempt to create transparency in the valuation process of properties taken by powerlines. The goal is to provide a complete report on how data are selected and analyzed.
Tourism and rural development are also likely to be adversely impacted by the high-voltage Cardinal-Hickory Creek transmission line.  Construction of the line and the consequent marring of the scenic Driftless Area landscape could lead to a drop in tourist numbers and the devaluing of existing conservation easements.  The threat of the proposed line has already established a ‘black cloud’ on property sales, purchase of conservation easements, and environmental protection practices while property owners, buyers, and conservation groups wait for the final-outcome of the proposed high-voltage Cardinal-Hickory Creek project.

Is Cardinal Hickory Creek required to ensure an ADEQUATE SUPPLY of power?

Brief summary: Since 2007, demand for electricity has been flat or in decline across the U.S., including Wisconsin and adjacent areas, even though economic activity and the number of electric customers has grown. Not only is there flat or declining demand for electricity in MG&E’s and WP&L’s service territories, the supply of electricity exceeds the demand in the Madison and Southwest Wisconsin electric power market.

No, demand for electricity in Wisconsin, Chicago and Northern Illinois, and Minnesota has been flat or declining over the past decade, even though economic activity and the number of customers has grown:

MGE’s and WP&L’s sales have decreased 2% and 2.3%, respectively, since 2011, even with a growing economy and an increase in the number of customers of 8% and 2.25%, respectively. (ELPC, p. 17)

Commonwealth Edison in Illinois has gained 100,000 new customers in the last three years but is losing 1% of electricity sales annually.

American Electric Power in Ohio forecasts a 1.6% annual decrease in demand for electricity over a period of 10 years.

Xcel-Northern States Power in Minnesota saw a 1.5% decline in electricity sales in the past year, even though the number of customers increased.

Moreover, MISO’s 2011 forecasts for electricity demand have not been borne out.  Over a ten-year period from 2012-2021, the difference in the MISO forecast of electricity demand growth and MGE’s and WP&L’s actual flat or declining demand is between 8% and 13%. (ELPC, p. 16) There is nothing to indicate that this demand trend for electricity will not continue into the foreseeable future.

To compensate for declining electricity sales and demand, WP&L has proposed increases in fixed customer charges of 56% in 2017 (from $7.67 to $12.00/month) and 50% in 2018 (from $12.00 to $18.00/month).

According to the US Department of energy, “slowing population growth, market saturation of major electricity-using appliances, improving efficiency of several equipment and appliance types in response to standards and technological change, and a shift in the economy toward less energy intensive industry are the reasons behind the levelling off of energy use.”

It’s clear, therefore, that the Cardinal-Hickory Creek line does not meet the state of Wisconsin’s “need” requirement for building new transmission lines.

Not only is there flat or declining demand for electricity in MG&E’s and WP&L’s service territories, the supply of electricity exceeds the demand in the Madison and Southwest Wisconsin electric power market.  This is the result of three important factors:

1) improved energy efficiency of residential and business appliances and equipment,

2) the emergence of customer- and third party-owned generation (such as customer-owned solar and battery units and community solar projects),

3) the development of new power generation in the Wisconsin market. Examples of the latter include WP&L’s 2-megawatt solar energy generating facility being built in Beloit, two new wind farms being developed east of Platteville, and three more wind farms being planned for Rock, Monroe, and Green counties.  (ELPC, pp. 11,12)



Is Cardinal-Hickory Creek required for RELIABILITY reasons, such as withstanding extreme weather conditions, cyber attacks, or meeting summer peak demand?

Brief summary: It’s not clear that large-scale interstate expansion transmission lines like the proposed CHC line are the optimal solution for preventing outages, handling peak demand, or protecting against damage from extreme weather conditions or cyber attacks.

No. The transmission developers have yet to provide any analysis of  a reliability need for CHC. Nor have they researched the potential of  a Low Voltage Transmission Alternative to meet future electricity needs as required by Wisconsin law.  Importantly, most outages experienced by electricity consumers occur in the distribution portion of the system, not the transmission portion.  Distribution lines are the lines that connect directly to our homes.  Severe weather, downed trees, squirrel activity are all factors that can cause blackouts.  In recent years, there has been a decrease in spending by utility companies on maintenance of distribution lines.  Rather, these companies have opted to focus on building high capacity transmission lines, a much more profitable venture.  The high-voltage Cardinal-Hickory Creek line will not enhance reliability. (Bakke, G. (2016) The Grid: The fraying wires between Americans and our energy future.  Bloomsbury, USA)  

As for the transmission portion of the grid, according to a 2014 article in The Economist, the interconnected US grid is not equipped to handle cyber-attacks or extreme weather conditions over large areas. This realization has led many organizations across the country to install their own microgrids:

Microgrids, with their own electricity-generating capacity, are a better bet. Most of these local grids are operated by private organizations such as military bases, industrial plants and universities, which need more dependable power than the national grid can offer. The biggest U.S. microgrid powers 150 buildings at the University of Texas at Austin with almost complete reliability.”  

To meet peak electricity demand, the most cost-effective approach is through energy efficiency, demand response, and solar energy development.  Demand response refers to the reduction or shift in electricity usage during peak periods on the part of consumers in response to some form of financial incentive (see Lazard’s Levelized Cost of Energy Analysis).  (ELPC, p. 22)

It’s also important to keep in mind that because the Cardinal-Hickory Creek line would carry a mix of electricity generated by continuously operating coal plants and by wind farms, in its efforts to meet peak demand, it would be generating more pollution in a more costly fashion than would the use of energy efficiency measures, demand response, and peaking plants. (ELPC, p. 23)

In addition to energy efficiency and demand response initiatives, Wisconsin can meet its energy needs and peak demand with locally generated wind and solar energy development combined with energy storage.  Current and planned wind and solar projects in Wisconsin include:

1) Glacier Hills Wind Park in Columbia County.

2) Quilt Block Wind Farm in Lafayette County

3) Dairyland Power Cooperative plans for 15.5 megawatts of solar projects in western Wisconsin.

4) Excel Energy Corp’s Northern States Power utility in Eau Claire plans for three new solar projects.

5) Excel’s plans to build two community “solar garden” projects.

Is Cardinal-Hickory Creek necessary to transport remote renewable energy?

Brief summary: As an open access line, CHC will give priority to cheap coal and natural gas sourced energy.  What this means is that under current market policy, the construction of transmission lines may actually increase demand for such energy types.  Moreover, demand for remote renewables is dropping steadily as Wisconsin utilities are moving away from purchasing out of state renewable energy in favor of developing renewables within their own service territories.

No. There is no demand for increasing transport of remote renewable energy into Wisconsin and interest in reducing CO2 emissions by this means is decreasing with every passing year.

Within MISO‘s generation footprint from the Canadian border to southern Louisiana are a large number of environmentally harmful lignite coal power plants and an abundance of under-utilized fossil fuel generation facilities.

MISO and ATC have not made clear the relative proportions of coal-generated electricity and wind-generated electricity that will be carried by the proposed Cardinal-Hickory Creek line.

It is important to understand that ATC is an open-access AC line (alternative current) which allows power plants and other lines to “tie in” along the way.  ATC and ITC will likely contract with the electricity supplier that pays the highest.  Environmentally harmful lignite coal plants in North Dakota and fossil fuel plants in other states are eager to export their surplus electricity to Wisconsin, especially since local utilities in Iowa and Minnesota are developing more in-state wind power and therefore reducing their demand for out-of-state energy. (ELPC, pp. 20,21)

Increasingly, because of market driven, cost effectiveness, Wisconsin will turn to meeting all of its energy needs through energy efficiency, modern load management tools, and locally generated solar, biogas, and wind combined with energy storage.  Current and planned wind and solar projects in Wisconsin include:

1) Glacier Hills Wind Park in Columbia County.

2) Quilt Block Wind Farm in Lafayette County

3) Dairyland Power Cooperative 15.5 megawatts of solar projects in western Wisconsin.

4) Xcel Energy Corp’s Northern States Power utility in Eau Claire plans for three new solar projects.

5) WIPPI 100 MW solar  (Two Rivers, WI)

6) Xcel’s plans to build two community “solar garden” projects.

What are the alternatives to transmission expansion?

The alternative to transmission expansion is to implement measures that will encourage and support energy efficiency, energy storage, demand response, distributed generation, and local renewables.  Implementing the above will reduce energy waste, foster local control, provide significant savings to households and businesses, create many local jobs, cut CO2 emissions, and increase local service reliability.

The opposite approach of continuing to rely on huge and expensive high-voltage transmission lines will increase waste, meet the needs of utility companies rather than those of electricity consumers, burden consumers with billions of dollars of debt, create few lasting jobs, substantially increase CO2 emissions, and continue the legacy of inaction.

The projected numbers for these two divergent paths are very telling.  The path of transmission expansion and increased energy use will result in approximately $300/month electric bills and substantial carbon emissions by 2045.  While the path of energy efficiency will lead to approximately $60/month electric bills and no carbon emissions by 2045.

Can alternatives to transmission expansion meet future electricity demand?

The Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI) is “an independent, non-partisan nonprofit that drives the efficient and restorative use of resources.”  In its recent book, Reinventing Fire: Bold Business Solutions for the New Energy Era, RMI presents four achievable scenarios (Maintain, Migrate, Renew, and Transform) for moving forward with electricity generation, delivery, and consumption over the next 40 years.

In RMI’s “transform” scenario the centralized grid system, with its high costs, poor incentives for energy efficiency, and vulnerability to extreme weather and cyber-attacks, shifts to a much more decentralized microgrid system that is much more efficient, reduces energy consumption, provides direct financial benefits locally, is flexible, and enhances the grid’s ability to respond quickly and effectively to power failures:

Aggressive energy efficiency adoption flattens and then reverses demand growth. Renewables’ installed capacity grows substantially, including a large capacity of distributed resources such as rooftop solar, combined heat and power (CHP), fuel cells, and small-scale wind. The grid exploits renewables’ geographic and technological diversity to improve load-following and reduce system costs. Unlike Renew with its more centralized renewables, this scenario would site most generation resources at or near customers. With more distributed generation and deployment of smart grid technology, the grid could be clustered in interlinked “microgrids” that could stand alone when necessary and improve the grid’s resilience against power failures.”

Such a transformation is in fact already happening. New York state recently committed $40 million dollars to  NY Prize, a competition to encourage the development of community microgrid systems that foster clean energy, reduce costs, and build reliability and resiliency into the electric grid.  NY Prize seeks to develop community partnerships among utilities, local governments, and the private sector to create a collaborative and innovative environment for the modernization of New York State’s electric grid.

In Vermont, Burlington recently made the headlines for being the first US city that is powered 100 percent from locally generated renewable sources.

What can I do to help stop this unnecessary, costly, and environmentally damaging line?

1) Educate yourself. Groups you can contact are listed below.

  • Driftless Defenders is a grassroots coalition of citizens dedicated to preventing the construction of high voltage transmission lines through the geologically unique Driftless Area of Wisconsin. This grassroots group was formed in May 2016 by neighbors in the Pleasant Ridge area of Dodgeville Township and has rapidly expanded to include people from many townshipsThrough their outreach and media efforts they are informing the public about the transmission lines proposal and explaining the reasons for their opposition. We also have videos on You Tube you can feel free to share  click here: YouTube link
  • Driftless Area Land Conservancy (DALC) is a land trust organization based in Dodgeville, Wisconsin.  Its purpose is to maintain and enhance the health, diversity and beauty of Southwest Wisconsin’s natural and agricultural landscape through permanent land protection and restoration, and improve people’s lives by connecting them to the land and to each other. DALC opposes construction of the transmission lines since they will negatively impact the qualities they are mandated to preserve.   To help devise a strategy to prevent construction of the lines they have retained the services of the Environmental Law and Policy Center and hired a community organizer.
  • Environmental Law and Policy Center (ELPC) is the Midwest’s leading public interest environmental legal advocacy and eco-business innovation organization, and among the nation’s leaders. They develop and lead successful strategic advocacy campaigns to improve environmental quality and protect our natural resources.  They, under the leadership of executive director and attorney, Howard Learner, have been retained by Driftless Area Land Conservancy (DALC) to guide them in their opposition to the transmission lines.
  • S.O.U.L. of Wisconsin (Save Our Unique Lands) is a non-profit grassroots organization whose mission is to promote efficient and responsible management of electrical power for the public good, while protecting the natural, social and economic environments and citizens of Wisconsin.
  • Bakke, G. (2016) The Grid: The fraying wires between Americans and our energy future.  Bloomsbury, USA
  • Madison Gas & Electric scores low on a new “energy report card” released by local utility watchdog RePower Madison.
  • Decoding the Driftless is a film that explores the rugged Driftless Region, with its fascinating geology, rare habitats and unique archeology
  • Responsible Electricity Transmission for Albertans’ (RETA) mission is to ensure that whenever new high voltage transmission lines are built near schools, homes, daycare centres, hospitals and environmentally sensitive areas, they must be buried.
  • The Power Line Blog (Bill Howley)

2) Tell everyone you know about the transmission lines.  The power companies are only required to notify people living within 300 feet of the proposed lines.  Consequently, many people are not informed about a project that will negatively impact them and their community.  If you would like handouts to distribute contact

3) Join Driftless Defenders – a coalition of citizens dedicated to protecting the geologically unique Driftless Area from the construction of high voltage transmission lines. Work with like-minded people and use your skills to help us oppose the transmission lines.

4) Write Letters to the Editor of your local paper and other papers. It will help to keep the transmission line issue in the minds of the public.  It will help educate them.  By reading letters written from different perspectives, the public will learn the many various reasons why people  oppose the lines.

Suggested topics are:   lack of need, expense, damage to the environment (farmland, vegetation, wildlife, groundwater, wetlands, historic and native American sites, recreation etc), negative impact on tourism, lowering of property values, better alternatives for providing energy, concerns about livestock, destruction of the beauty of our scenic landscapes, change to our rural way of life, need for a cost/benefit analysis.

5) Place a banner or yard sign on your property opposing the high-voltage transmission line (contact

6)  Place a sticker opposing the high-voltage transmission lines on your car or in a window.   (contact

7)  Educate businesses you frequent about the transmission lines and ask them if they would be willing to display posters or handouts opposing them. (contact

8) Request a speaker to make a presentation to your group.  (contact

9) Volunteer to help with lobbying efforts to educate and gain support from elected officials.  It’s important to understand that policies regarding power plants, transmission lines, rates, fees, energy efficiency, and solar rebate programs are state approved, rather than federally approved.

10) Contact your representatives – Let them know you are opposed to the transmission lines and explain your reasons.  Ask them to use their influence to convince the Wisconsin Public Service Commission not to approve the Cardinal-Hickory Creek transmission line project.

Suggested topics are:

  • requesting a comprehensive cost/benefit analysis of non-transmission alternatives
  • lack of need
  • expense
  • damage to the environment (farmland, vegetation, wildlife, groundwater, wetlands, historic and native American sites, recreation, etc)
  • negative impact on tourism
  • lowering of property values
  • negative impact on our economy
  • better alternatives for providing energy
  • concerns about livestock
  • destruction of the beauty of our scenic landscapes
  • change to our rural way of life, etc.