Half of a controversial transmission line comes online in Wisconsin

Project costs have gone $130M over initial projections

utility lines standing in Maine
Central Maine Power utility lines are seen in 2021, in Pownal, Maine. Robert F. Bukaty/AP Photo

Half of a controversial Cardinal-Hickory Creek Transmission Line that runs from Wisconsin to Iowa came online earlier this month, even as the cost of the project has risen $130 million over initial projections.

The 102-mile line is co-owned by American Transmission Co., ITC Midwest and Dairyland Power Cooperative. The portion of the line that runs from a substation near Middleton to a substation near Monfort became operational on Dec. 7.

“We are pleased the eastern segment of the Cardinal-Hickory Creek line has been placed in service,” American Transmission Co. Project Manager Jake Valentine said in a statement. “This allows the project to begin to provide numerous benefits for electric consumers.”

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The project was approved by the Midwest grid operator in 2011. It received approval from the Public Service Commission of Wisconsin in September 2019, and the Iowa Utilities Board in May 2020.

Since then, the line has faced multiple legal challenges from environmental groups, who argued the project threatened the Driftless Area of southwestern Wisconsin and the Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife Refuge.

But the utilities say the 345-kilovolt line — running from Dubuque County, Iowa, to Dane County — is critical to delivering cost-effective renewable energy to customers.

The litigation did delay the project, but a July 19 U.S. Court of Appeals decision allowed it to move forward. The utilities behind the line say they’re working to minimize the project’s environmental impact.

The project has gone over budget. In August, WPR reported the project cost was roughly $90 million more than its owners expected due to rising material costs, land acquisition expenses and ongoing legal challenges.

As of Sept. 30, that number rose to more than $130 million, according to a document filed with the state Public Service Commission in late October. The project’s approved cost was $492.2 million, but it’s actual cost was $625.2 million by September. The project cost in Wisconsin was $524.3 million and the cost in Iowa was $100.9 million.

The line’s co-owners say they plan to have the second half of the project in service by June 2024.

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