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Wind, solar developers say transmission line key to achieving Tony Evers’ clean energy goal

Wind and solar energy developers and electrical workers are calling on Wisconsin regulators to approve a controversial power line that they say will be critical to meeting the governor’s clean energy goals.

A joint venture of American Transmission Co., ITC Midwest and Dairyland Power Cooperative, the line would run from Dubuque, Iowa, to Middleton and cost between $474 million and $560 million. Those costs would be passed on to ratepayers in 12 states, with about 15 percent falling to Wisconsin.

Clean energy advocates say it would alleviate congestion that is limiting the output of existing wind farms and enable the development of more such farms in states to the west, which have some of the best wind resources in the country.

Wind and solar projects with a combined capacity of more than 4,000 megawatts – roughly two-thirds the power of Wisconsin’s existing coal-fired generators – in Minnesota, Iowa and South Dakota are at least partially dependent on the line to meet their full potential.

“Without Cardinal-Hickory Creek, Wisconsin would lose access to the cheapest source of energy,” said Beth Soholt, executive director of the Clean Grid Alliance.

Soholt, along with representatives of two developers and members of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, held a news conference Friday in the state Capitol just an hour after Gov. Tony Evers signed an executive order calling for 100 percent carbon-free electricity by 2050.

“Those goals he’s talking about can’t happen without transmission lines,” said Chris Kunkle, government and regulatory affairs manager for Apex Clean Energy.

The utilities proposing the line say it will deliver between $23 million and $350 million in net benefits to Wisconsin ratepayers under “the most plausible” future scenarios studied. In the worst-case scenario, they say, it would cost ratepayers $25 million over 40 years to relieve congestion that is keeping wholesale energy prices higher than in neighboring states.

Opponents of the line – including consumer advocates, environmental groups and hundreds of individuals – argue it’s an outdated approach to generate profits for its owners and that cheaper and less disruptive alternatives haven’t been adequately studied.

It is up to the Public Service Commission to decide whether the line is needed and in the public interest, and if so which route it should follow. The three-member commission is scheduled to decide those questions on Tuesday.