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Farmers, Residents Of Southwestern Wisconsin Voice Concerns About Proposed Transmission Line

Wisconsin's Public Service Commission Hosting Public Hearings On Cardinal-Hickory Creek Line

transmission line
Photo courtesy American Transmission Company

Lisa Schlimgen raises cattle with her husband and children on their farm, Dreamy 280, in Blue Mounds.

She said the farm’s name comes from the fact that owning the 280-acre farm was a dream come true for her family. But she worries a proposed high-voltage transmission line that would cut across her farm could change that.

“When you arrive at the gateway to our farm, there will be those towers, and it is not a very dreamy sort of aspect for anyone to envision,” Schlimgen said.

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She was one of many people who shared concerns about the Cardinal-Hickory Creek transmission line at a Public Service Commission hearing on Tuesday in Lancaster.

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Public hearings planned for last week and this week are part of the application process for the line proposed by American Transmission Co. ITC Midwest and Dairyland Power Cooperative. The 345-kilovolt transmission line would stretch more than 100 miles from the Madison area to Dubuque County, Iowa. According to the project website, the utility companies started the application process in 2016. If it’s approved by state and federal regulators, the companies hope to have the line in service by 2023.

Many residents of southwestern Wisconsin have rallied against the proposed line.

Betsy D’Angelo from Dodgeville Township, who was at the public hearing, said she and several neighbors formed the group Driftless Defenders after they received letters about the proposal from ATC.

She said her property is now on an alternate route for the project, but she’s still worried about the project’s impact on local property values.

“If you have land where you can see the towers from it, your property values go down. That’s extremely difficult, especially for farmers,” D’Angelo said. “A lot of people, it’s kind of like their retirement income is going to be generated from their land.”

The Cardinal-Hickory Creek line does have support from regional renewable energy groups.

Beth Soholt, executive director of the Clean Grid Alliance, formerly known as Wind on the Wires, said the proposed line has been identified for years as needed infrastructure for renewable energy projects.

“If this line were not to be approved, it would mean we’d have to roll back the clock a number of years, redo a whole lot of studies,” Soholt said Tuesday. “The wind and solar farms might have to pay for additional infrastructure that we don’t have to pay for right now and all of the future wind and solar that is looking to be developed in Wisconsin is also depending on this line.”

She said having the transmission line will allow utilities to get renewable energy to their customers, building the “road to market” for wind and solar farms. It’s why her organization also supported ATC’s Badger-Coulee transmission line from La Crosse to Madison, which connects to the same substation as the Cardinal-Hickory Creek.

“This is a backbone investment for the state of Wisconsin that is going to pay benefits for a number of years to come,” Soholt said.

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But George Meyer, executive director of the Wisconsin Wildlife Federation, said he doesn’t think adding transmission lines is necessary given the increasing use of locally-produced solar and wind power.

“Proposed in the state in the next five years are projects that bring in 4,500 megawatts of solar energy,” Meyer said.So we are at what I call the inflection point, the turning point of homegrown solar and wind taking over. We do not need to import energy, whether it’s coal or wind, from other states.”

He said the proposed line would negatively affect the area’s wildlife and habitats, like rare grassland prairies. And he said the project would likely impact the Driftless area’s reputation for scenic views.

“It really defines that area and it’s really a major factor in that area’s economy,” Meyer said. “Tourism is the No. 2 industry in the Driftless area.”

Lisa Schlimgen is also worried about the economic impacts to the cattle and fields on her farm in Blue Mounds. She estimates 90 percent of her customers are concerned about healthy living, and she worries those consumers won’t want to buy beef from cattle raised under high-voltage lines.

And she said working around the three towers that would be cited on her property will impact her bottom line.

“It may seem very trivial to most people but the loss of time, energy and resources that we will have to expend just to farm around those towers is crazy,” Schlimgen said. “They may give us a payout to start with but that payout is not going to recover everything from year after year, season after season.”

Final PSC hearing on the project are scheduled for Thursday in Dodgeville. The public can submit comments online until Friday.

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Editor’s note: American Transmission Company is an underwriter of Wisconsin Public Radio.