A federal agency has released a draft report outlining the impact the construction and operation of a proposed high-voltage transmission line could have on the environment.
Backers of the Cardinal-Hickory Creek project say the benefits it will bring by adding renewable energy to the electric grid outweigh the damage that would be caused by construction, as outlined by the Rural Utility Service in its environmental impact statement.
“Renewable energy is the only power source that does not present threats to public health and has a much lower impact on the environment than fossil fuel generation,” said Kerri Johannsen, energy program director of the Iowa Environmental Council, a policy group based in Des Moines.
The 102- to 120-mile Cardinal-Hickory Creek line would stretch from Dane County, Wis., to Dubuque County, crossing the Mississippi River over a national wildlife and fish refuge near Cassville, Wis.
The project is a joint venture among American Transmission Co., ITC Midwest and Dairyland Power Cooperative and comes at an estimated cost of $465 million to $548 million, with an additional 10.2 percent guaranteed rate of return.
The companies stated the project enables the importation of low-cost wind energy from states west of Wisconsin, improves grid reliability and reduces system congestion.
The impact statement evaluated six potential routes and highlighted detrimental impacts to soil, vegetation, wildlife, water resources and socioeconomic conditions that would occur.
As towers are installed, trees and vegetation will be cleared in the project right-of-way and soil will be displaced, according to the impact statement.
Construction would result in the “loss, degradation and/or fragmentation” of plant and wildlife communities, according to the report. Newly exposed topsoil also could be subject to “accelerated” erosion.
Tom Petersen, spokesman for ITC Midwest, said the companies comply with regulations aimed at mitigating environmental impacts, which are outlined in the report.
Johannsen said the report understated the benefits additional wind energy will provide when connected to the power grid via the line.
Opponents of the project said the report failed to justify why the project is needed when energy use has remained flat in recent years, nor does it thoroughly explore non-transmission alternatives.
They added that there is no evidence that adding additional renewable energy sources would displace generation from fossil fuels on the line, which is open-access.
“Why build a transmission line that creates this much environmental and natural resources damage by cutting a large swath through the heart of the Driftless area when it’s not needed for reliability and keeping the lights on?” said Howard Learner, executive director of the Chicago-based Environmental Law & Policy Center.
The RUS is collecting feedback on the impact statement from the public through Feb. 5, 2019.
It intends to release its final report by August 2019 and issue a decision whether to approve Cardinal-Hickory Creek in November. The project must also receive state approval in Iowa and Wisconsin.
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