Record Number of Intervenors Turn Out for CHC Hearing

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By: 
Kevin Murphy

MADISON–The largest number of individuals, organizations and governmental units, ever, were accepted Thursday as parties in the state’s consideration of a power line proposed to be built between the town of Middleton and Dubuque, IA.

Public Service Commission (PSC) administrative law judge Michael Newmark approved requests from approximately 60 individuals and entities to be intervenors in the proposed Cardinal-Hickory Creek (CHC) 345-kilovolt power line project.

Used to typically working with a dozen or so intervenors in a contested case, Newmark had hoped to consolidate intervenor requests along common lines of interest to better manage the process. However, he soon acknowledged that would be impossible with two different proposed routes spread across 100 miles and five counties.

Newmark asked Save Our Unique Lands (SOUL), a frequent intervenor organization in power line cases, if it would consolidate with any of the numerous landowners along the proposed routes. SOUL secretary Rob Danielson declined.

Iowa and Dane counties agreed to consolidate its interests, but town of Vermont chairperson Karen Carlock declined to join them saying the town’s interests “are unique and we wouldn’t want to lose our voice.”

Representatives from the Iowa County towns of Arena, Clyde and Wyoming also wouldn’t agree to consolidate as intervenors.

Newmark will be the “gatekeeper” overseeing the process in which information about the proposed line is requested and shared between the companies that want the line built and the individuals and entities who largely oppose it.

The line’s builders, American Transmission Co. (ATC), ITC-Midwest and Dairyland Power Cooperative, within a month will ask the intervenors their interests in the project and the location of their property, said ATC attorney Brian Potts.

These citizen intervenors have entered a legal proceeding that could take two years to complete They will meet filing deadlines, respond to questions, present a written argument for their position and appear at hearings in Madison.

“It sounds a little daunting,” Caroline Beckett, of rural Blue Mounds, said but she wanted to learn if the power line is needed.

“It’s outdated and outmoded…It’s a big security risk compared to power lines that stretch across smaller areas. And the power it will transfer is only eight percent generated from a renewable source. It’s promoted as moving wind generated energy but most of the power is generated from coal and frack sand produced natural gas.” 

According to ATC, the proposed line would carry electricity generated from mix of renewable sources and fossil fuels with the mix changing on a constant basis.

Beckett came ready to defend her request to intervene, but the line’s builders did not contest her participation.

“A lot of us have been working at this for quite a while and we’re ready to go to work,” she said.

Intervenors needing assistance with answering questions or using the PSC’s electronic filing system can consult with the PSC records management staff or a staff attorney, Newmark said.

“Don’t contact me directly, I can’t communicate with you about the case,” he said, as it wouldn’t be fair to all parties.

Newmark did not accept intervenor requests from about 24 individuals who did not attend Thursday’s conference. Newmark said he could later consider their requests and those from others subject to object from the other parties. Those that do not want intervenor status can still file comments with the PSC about the project during the course of the proceedings.

Newmark will also be setting a schedule for questions and responses to be filed.

Intervenors can seek compensation from the PSC for the time spent on preparing and responding to questions, and certain expense such as hiring experts. Newmark cautioned that the compensation application is lengthy and detailed which discouraged Mark Russell, of the town of Arena.

“That’s irrelevant to me. It’s not worth the paperwork,” he said.

After becoming an intervenor, Amelia Williams, of the town of Cross Plains said she expected her email inbox to become jammed with discovery requests and communications with the many parties to the case.

“Sounds like we’ll be looking at the computer all day and all night. But maybe we’ll get some answers and maybe we’ll stop this line,” Williams said.

ATC projects the line would cost an estimated $500 million but Wisconsin consumers would pay $66 million for the preferred route and $72 million for the alternate route as the line is considered to be part of a system that would serve several states.

ATC expects the PSC to rule on the power line request by 2020, and if approved, put it into service by 2023.

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