April 21, 2022
Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, Wisconsin

Iowa regulators deny requests to halt construction of controversial power line

Chris Hubbuch | Wisconsin State Journal | April 20, 2022 | madison.com

Iowa utility regulators say work can continue on a power line between Dubuque and Middleton despite a court order blocking the Mississippi River crossing.

The Iowa Utilities Board on Tuesday denied petitions by power line opponents who sought to halt construction of the Cardinal-Hickory Creek project in light of a federal judge’s ruling that it could not cross the Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge.

Opponents argued that without the crossing the line cannot fulfill its purpose of moving electricity to eastern population centers and that by proceeding the utilities were “recklessly” spending ratepayers dollars.

In an order issued Tuesday, the utilities board said opponents did not address the legal factors for a stay nor seek a judicial review of the board’s order authorizing the line.

Five Wisconsin lawmakers and the state’s consumer advocate have asked state regulators to suspend construction on the Wisconsin side of the river, noting that without the connection the project cannot provide the promised benefits to customers.

The Wisconsin Public Service Commission has not acted on those requests.

In January, U.S. District Judge William Conley sided with four conservation groups that sued to stop the $492 million project, finding the environmental review was inadequate and the project is incompatible with the mission of the refuge, which covers 261 river miles between Rock Island, Illinois, and Wabasha, Minnesota.

Attorneys for American Transmission Co., ITC Midwest and Dairyland Power Cooperative have appealed Conley’s decision and sought to suspend his order blocking a proposed land swap with the refuge.

They argue a delay would increase construction costs, which are passed on to ratepayers, “compromise reliable operation” of the Midwestern power grid, and contribute to ongoing congestion that prevents the delivery of cheap wind energy from Iowa.

Project delays could result in the regional grid operator capping output from new clean energy projects that could power millions of homes.

The utilities, which have already spent more than $161 million on the project, began cutting trees last fall to make way for the Wisconsin portion of the line and plan to begin pouring foundations this spring, according to the most recent progress report filed with state regulators.

One of the Iowa segments is about 75% complete, though construction of the portion through the refuge is not scheduled to begin until this winter.

The utilities say they are confident the appeals court will overturn Conley’s ruling and plan to continue work on either side of the river, which Conley called “little more than an orchestrated trainwreck.”

Five Wisconsin lawmakers and the state’s consumer advocate have asked state regulators to suspend construction on the Wisconsin side of the river.

URL to article:  https://www.wind-watch.org/news/2022/04/21/iowa-regulators-deny-requests-to-halt-construction-of-controversial-power-line/