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Wisconsin regulators back 345-kV Cardinal-Hickory Creek line to move wind power

Highlights

Project will run 100 miles from Wisconsin to Iowa

Line will move 25 GW of wind power

Pointing to the project's ability to boost reliability and provide access to out-of-state renewable energy resources, Wisconsin regulators on Tuesday voted to approve the 345-kV Cardinal-Hickory Creek transmission line.

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The project from American Transmission Company, ITC Holdings subsidiary ITC Midwest and Dairyland Power Cooperative -- to run 100 miles from Dane County, Wisconsin, to Dubuque County, Iowa -- also includes the construction of a substation in Montfort, Wisconsin. Regional grid operator Midcontinent ISO designated the line as one of its "multivalue projects" needed to improve the region's overall reliability and bring wind power to market.

The three-member Public Service Commission of Wisconsin spent several hours on Tuesday discussing the project before voting unanimously to grant the developers' request for a certificate of public convenience and necessity for the transmission line. Project developers expect to receive a written order by September 30.

Before the discussion began, regulators acknowledged concerns expressed about the project but nevertheless said they would support the transmission line because it is needed.

Commissioner Mike Huebsch, who led the discussion, said the economic and reliability benefits of the project outweigh its costs to Wisconsin ratepayers.

"I believe the record before us makes clear this project is worthy of a CPCN and is the best option to provide the safe, reliable and affordable electric needs of our state and the goal of a more carbon-free energy portfolio," he said.

Huebsch said the record shows the transmission line would lead to energy cost savings by reducing transmission congestion while also providing a means of moving roughly 25 GW of low-cost wind power from the west.

LAST OF THE MVPs

Costs for the project, estimated at $492 million, will be shared across the northern MISO region. The estimated cost to Wisconsin ratepayers is $66 million to $72 million. If completed, the project will be the last of the 17 so-called MVPs approved by MISO in 2011, which in total currently are estimated to cost about $6.6 billion.

In a news release, ATC, ITC and Dairyland said regulators chose the companies' preferred route with some minor variations. They noted that the vast majority of the selected route uses existing utility and interstate or US highway corridors.

The high profile project drew the attention of clean energy advocates, environmental groups, landowners, and state and local lawmakers. The attorneys general from neighboring Illinois and Michigan also weighed in, asking the Wisconsin commission to reject the project.

But members of that agency ultimately decided in favor of issuing a certificate of public need and necessity for the transmission line.

Commission Chair Rebecca Cameron Valcq said that while clean energy resources need to be built in Wisconsin, the state also needs access to those resources from other states.

"Transmission is the backbone of clean energy alternatives to fossil fuel," she said. "Getting that clean energy from where it is plentiful to where it is needed and at the scale that it is needed ... cannot be done without building transmission infrastructure."

Additional regulatory approvals are needed from the Iowa Utilities Board for the Iowa segment of the project, as well as from federal agencies, including the US Fish and Wildlife Service and the US Army Corps of Engineers, for permission for the line to cross the Mississippi River.

The companies will begin contacting Wisconsin property owners along the route starting this fall. If Iowa regulators and federal agencies approve the project, construction is expected to start in 2021, with the line to become operational in 2023 (Wisconsin PSC Docket 5-CE-146).

-- Kelly Andrejasich, S&P Global Market Intelligence, newsdesk@spglobal.com

-- Edited by Gail Roberts, newsdesk@spglobal.com

21st Annual Financing US Power Conference | October 22-23, 2019 | New York

This long-standing event attracts senior-level bankers, developers, financiers, private equity firms and power companies who gather to exchange key business concepts surrounding deal-making in the US energy sector.

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