Transmission

Wisconsin PSC/DNR Draft Environmental Impact Statement Echoes Concerns of Unneeded Transmission Line Harming Driftless Area

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Contacts:
Dave Clutter, Driftless Area Land Conservancy, (608) 692-2153, Dave@driftlessconservancy.org
George Meyer, Wisconsin Wildlife Federation, (608) 516-5545, georgemeyer@tds.net
Judith Nemes, Environmental Law & Policy Center, (312) 795-3706, JNemes@elpc.org

Wisconsin PSC/DNR Draft Environmental Impact Statement Echoes Conservation Groups & Natural Resource Experts’ Concerns of Unneeded Huge Transmission Line Harming Scenic Driftless Area

State report identifies harmful impacts, need for huge transmission line questioned

Dodgeville, WI – The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources’ and Public Service Commission’s just-released draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) confirms many of the same vital natural resources concerns over American Transmission Company’s (ATC) proposed huge Cardinal-Hickory Creek transmission line and 17-story high towers already voiced by local conservation groups and leading natural resources experts. The proposed transmission line would cut a wide swath through the Driftless Area’s scenic landscapes, conservation lands, parklands, key waterways, and other natural resource treasures. This is the wrong place for a huge transmission line, which, in any case, is not needed for electricity reliability.

According to Driftless Area Land Conservancy Executive Director David Clutter: “The Driftless Area is a nationally significant landscape that should be protected. We appreciated that Wisconsin’s Department of Natural Resources’ draft EIS recognized many of the same potential harms we and others identified that a massive transmission line and its 17-story high towers would inflict upon this unique treasure in the Midwest.”

A top-rate team of Wisconsin’s leading natural resources experts presented their concerns in written comments filed in January with the Wisconsin Public Service Commission and Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. Their comments were submitted on behalf of the Driftless Area Land Conservancy and the Wisconsin Wildlife Federation by the Environmental Law & Policy Center, which is serving as their public legal counsel.

George Meyer, Executive Director of the Wisconsin Wildlife Federation and former Director of Wisconsin’s Department of Natural Resources, said: “The Driftless Area and specifically the locations that would be harmed by the Cardinal-Hickory Creek transmission line provide critical habitat for fish and wildlife. State, federal and local governments have invested many millions of dollars in lands for fish and wildlife habitat, public access and recreational purposes including hunting, fishing, trapping, biking, hiking and birdwatching which generate scores of millions of dollars into the local and state economies. The value of these public lands will be significantly degraded by the construction of the proposed Cardinal-Hickory Creek transmission line.”

Howard Learner, Executive Director at the Environmental Law & Policy Center and one of the attorneys for the Driftless Area Land Conservancy and the Wisconsin Wildlife Federation said:  “The Driftless Area is the wrong place for a huge transmission line, which is not needed for reliability in any case as electricity demand is flat and there is already surplus power. The proposed costly transmission line is yesterday’s misguided way to meet future energy needs for people and businesses in Wisconsin.  There are better, cleaner, and more flexible solar energy, storage, wind power and energy efficiency resources in southwest Wisconsin that would create jobs and economic growth here instead of subsidizing out-of-state energy including fossil fuel generation.”

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A+ Team of Wisconsin Natural Resources Experts Oppose Huge Transmission Line That Endangers Scenic Driftless Area Values

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

A+ Team of Wisconsin Natural Resources Experts Oppose Huge Transmission Line That Endangers Scenic Driftless Area Values

Threats to Unique Landscape, Recreational Tourism and Fragile Ecosystems

Dodgeville, WI – Four of Wisconsin’s leading natural resources experts filed strong written comments opposing American Transmission Company’s (ATC) proposed huge Cardinal-Hickory Creek transmission line and 17-story towers that will cut a wide swath through the Driftless Area’s scenic landscapes, conservation lands, parklands, key waterways and other natural resource treasures. This is the wrong place for a huge transmission line that is not needed for electricity reliability.

The experts’ written comments were filed individually by January 4th with the Wisconsin Public Service Commission (PSC) and Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. They were also submitted on behalf of the Driftless Area Land Conservancy (DALC) and Wisconsin Wildlife Federation (WWF) by public interest attorneys at the Environmental Law & Policy Center, which is serving as legal counsel for DALC and WWF.

According to DALC Executive Director David Clutter: “The Driftless Area is a nationally significant landscape that should be protected. This massive transmission line and its 17-story tall towers are not needed for reliability, and the Driftless Area should not be sacrificed for ATC’s profits.  We are pleased to have a superb team of natural resources experts weigh in on the importance of protecting and conserving a unique treasure in the Midwest.”

The natural resources expert team includes:

George Meyer, Executive Director of the Wisconsin Wildlife Federation and former Director of Wisconsin’s Department of Natural Resources, stated:

“The Driftless Area and specifically the locations proposed to be traversed by the Cardinal-Hickory Creek transmission line provide critical habitat for fish and wildlife. State, federal and local governments have invested over $100 million dollars in lands for fish and wildlife habitat, public access and recreational purposes including hunting, fishing, trapping, biking, hiking and birdwatching which generate scores of millions of dollars into the local and state economies. The value of these public lands will be significantly degraded by the construction of the proposed Cardinal-Hickory Creek transmission line.”

Don Waller, Professor of Botany and Environmental Studies and former Department Chair at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, stated:

“As a professional conservation biologist, I am concerned about the environmental impacts of this proposed transmission line as I know this project would have both immediate and sustained deleterious impacts on plant, bird, and other animal populations in the region.”

Stephen Born, Emeritus Professor of Planning and Environmental Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, stated:

“One of the greatest losses associated with a major transmission line across this special region is the degradation of scenic and amenity resources. Because these highly-valued scenic resources are among the surest victims of a huge transmission line, those impacts should be thoroughly and carefully assessed in the review process for the transmission line.”

Curt Meine, Senior Fellow at the The Aldo Leopold Foundation and Adjunct Faculty at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, stated:

“We must strive together for energy solutions that do not sacrifice other conservation goals and degrade the quality of our land (in the Driftless Area). The decision on this proposed powerline is a test.  It will show if we as a society are willing to resist the easy path of expediency and short-term profit.”

The proposed 345 kV high-voltage transmission line is on a route cutting a wide path from Dubuque, Iowa, through the Upper Mississippi Fish and Wildlife Refuge, across protected conservation lands, wetlands, family farms, school district property and many sensitive natural areas in the Driftless Area. The huge transmission line routes would run through the protected Military Ridge Prairie Heritage Area and Black Earth Watershed Conservation Area, and by Governor Dodge State Park and Blue Mounds State Park.

ATC is requesting a Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity from the Public Service Commission so that it can assert eminent domain in order to take private land for its expensive transmission line and high towers.

Howard Learner, Executive Director at the Environmental Law & Policy Center and one of the attorneys for DALC and the WWF said: “The Driftless Area is the wrong place for a huge transmission line, which is not needed for reliability in any case. The proposed costly transmission line is yesterday’s misguided way to meet future energy needs for people and businesses in Wisconsin.  There are better, cleaner, and more flexible solar energy, storage, wind power and energy efficiency resources in southwest Wisconsin that would create jobs and economic growth here instead of subsidizing out-of-state energy including fossil fuel generation.”

 

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New Environmental Study of Proposed Cardinal-Hickory Creek Transmission Line Improperly Rejects Alternatives

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:

Chuck Tenneson, charles@driftlessconservancy.org, 608-930-3252

Sarah Eddy, seddy@elpc.org, 312-795-3710

DODGEVILLE, Wis., Dec. 10, 2018 – The draft environmental impact statement (EIS) released recently by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Utilities Service (RUS) for the proposed Cardinal-Hickory Creek transmission line includes only a cursory review of non-transmission alternatives to the high-voltage line such as greater energy efficiency, local renewables, and energy storage, despite requirements in federal law that alternatives be considered thoroughly. The draft EIS admits that non-transmission alternatives, along with lower-voltage and underground alternatives, were “not carried forward for detailed analysis.”

The proposed Cardinal-Hickory Creek transmission line in southwest Wisconsin would cut a swath through the state’s scenic and ecologically unique Driftless Area. The cost of the project would be borne by electric ratepayers in Wisconsin and other states and energy experts have concluded that the new transmission line is not needed due to flattened demand for electricity in Wisconsin and recent advances in energy technology.

The costs and environmental damage that would be created by the transmission line has sparked opposition and legal challenges from local grassroots citizens and conservation groups. Wisconsin’s Dane and Iowa Counties voted to oppose the transmission line and have intervened in the Public Service Commission proceedings to fight the project.

“We wouldn’t think of putting a power line across the Grand Canyon, so why would we think of putting one through one of the most beautiful and unique landscapes in the Upper Midwest?” Said Dave Clutter, executive director of the Driftless Area Land Conservancy. “We have a national treasure in the Driftless Area, and we should treat it like one.”

“RUS is required by federal law to ‘rigorously explore and objectively evaluate all reasonable alternatives’ to proposed transmission lines like the Cardinal-Hickory Creek project,” said Howard Learner, one of the Environmental Law and Policy Center attorneys representing DALC. “RUS cannot simply look at different environmentally harmful routes for this huge transmission line and call it a day.”

“Iowa County residents have come together to adamantly oppose this unneeded high-voltage power line, which would irreversibly damage the landscape, ecology, and recreation economy we depend on,” said Betsy D’Angelo, a member of the Driftless Defenders’ leadership team. “There are alternatives that can improve our electric system without damaging the Driftless Area’s most important natural areas.”

“The draft environmental impact statement for the Cardinal-Hickory Creek project ignores the reality of new technology that has improved energy efficiency and decreased the demand for electricity,” said David Meylor, chairman of the Western Dane Preservation Campaign, the Mount Horeb area citizens group formed to oppose the line. “Recent analyses of electric demand demonstrate that the expensive, invasive Cardinal-Hickory Creek transmission line project simply isn’t needed.”

“The proposed Cardinal-Hickory Creek Transmission line will have a significant negative impact on fish and wildlife habitat and the management of public lands in Southwestern Wisconsin and in light of other energy alternatives should not be constructed,” stated George Meyer, Executive Director of the Wisconsin Wildlife Federation.

The proposed Cardinal-Hickory Creek transmission line would install towers of up to 175-feet along a 100-mile route that would affect sensitive natural areas and disrupt economic activity. The project could cost ratepayers more than $1 billion during the life of the project, including a profit margin for the transmission line’s utility owners that is guaranteed by Wisconsin law.

Legal counsel for the Driftless Area Land Conservancy will be reviewing the RUS’s draft EIS in greater detail and will submit comprehensive public comments to the agency. Members of the public are strongly encouraged to submit comments before the deadline of Feb. 5, 2019.

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Issued by:

Driftless Area Land Conservancy

Driftless Defenders

Environmental Law and Policy Center

Western Dane County Preservation Campaign

Wisconsin Wildlife Federation

ELPC named the 2018 Regulatory Champion of the Year by Interstate Renewable Energy Council

 (San Francisco, CA) – During an awards ceremony at Intersolar North America, the Interstate Renewable Energy Council (IREC) today honored its 2018 3iAward recipients, celebrating the nation’s best innovation, ingenuity and inspiration in renewable energy and energy efficiency. The winners are based on a prestigious annual national search.

“Today, we’re proud to recognize our 2018 IREC 3iAward recipients – among the nation’s most extraordinary people, projects and programs making a sustainable energy future a reality,” said IREC Board Chair Larry Shirley.

“Their work is setting new standards – creating solutions to today’s complex renewable energy and energy efficiency challenges – changing communities and our national energy landscape in the process,” added Ken Jurman, IREC board member and chair of the 3iAwards Committee.

“As we honor their achievements, IREC celebrates its 36th year,” Shirley said. “We are more proud than ever of our own history, leading transformative policies and practices that allow millions more Americans to benefit from clean renewable energy.”

Regulatory Champion of the Year
Environmental Law & Policy Center, Chicago IL

Where Midwest regulatory reform issues call for talented public interest environmental entrepreneurs, you’ll find the Environmental Law and Policy Center. Since 1993, ELPC has been improving the quality of life in Midwest communities, now with offices in nine states. Nowhere is ELPC’s handiwork more apparent than in the Illinois Future Energy Jobs bill and the Illinois Power Agency’s Long Term Renewable Resources Procurement Plan, both of which will help usher in new wind and solar projects. ELPC has played a pivotal role advancing community solar and interconnection reform in Illinois, Iowa and most recently Minnesota, where consumers and communities experienced major backlogs, delays and costs to connect community solar projects to the grid. Along with IREC and Fresh Energy, ELPC successfully petitioned the Minnesota Public Utility Commission for more transparent, nationally consistent interconnection standards. New common-sense interconnection standards now lay the foundation for more Midwesterners to benefit from clean energy for years to come.

PJM capacity auction shows First Energy’s nuclear plants aren’t needed

FirstEnergy critics say PJM auction shows its nuclear plants aren’t needed

The bankrupt company’s three Ohio nuclear plants failed to clear PJM’s capacity auction despite higher prices.

The failure of FirstEnergy Solutions’ nuclear power plants to clear a regional capacity auction supports the case for closing them, critics said.

Regional grid operator PJM announced the results of its 2021-2022 capacity auction last week. While FirstEnergy Solutions groused about the results, others expressed vindication in the rejection of its three nuclear plants.

“The recent PJM capacity market auction indicates how extremely uncompetitive the FES nuclear plants are today,” said Howard Learner, executive director of the Environmental Law & Policy Center.

FirstEnergy Solutions in a statement called the results “as unfortunate as they are unsurprising.” The company announced on March 28 plans to close the power plants within three years, but was required to offer them into the capacity auction because it didn’t announce the closures sooner.

The annual PJM capacity auction aims to ensure that enough electricity will be available to cover projected peak needs plus a margin of safety for the next three years. Generators submit a price per megawatt for capacity they can guarantee, and any at or below the clearing price are accepted.

This year’s clearing price for FirstEnergy’s Ohio service zone: $171.33 per megawatt-day. Bids at or below that amount cleared the auction.

FirstEnergy Solutions’ inability to clear the auction hasn’t stopped it from continuing to seek subsidies that might allow it to continue operating the plants. “We will continue to seek legislative and regulatory relief at the state and federal levels — relief that recognizes the critical but uncompensated contribution that our plants make to the reliability and resilience of the regional grid,” said Thomas Mulligan, the company’s outside media relations consultant and spokesperson.

That comment tracks with remarks that FirstEnergy President and CEO Chuck Jones made last month when the company released its first quarter earnings.

READ FULL ARTICLE HERE.

PRESS RELEASE: New Minnesota Rules Make Connecting Clean Energy to the Grid Easier for Customers

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Contacts:

Judith Nemes, ELPC | 312-795-3706 | JNemes@elpc.org

Ruth Fein, IREC | 518.858.7329 | ruthfein@irecusa.org

Matt Privratsky, Fresh Energy | 651-726-7571 | Privratsky@fresh-energy.org

New Minnesota Rules Make Connecting Clean Energy to the Grid Easier for Customers

Minnesota made new strides for clean energy last week (May 24, 2018), becoming the third midwest state in the last three years to adopt wholesale reforms to their interconnection procedures – creating a more transparent and effective process for customers to connect to the electric grid.

After more than two years, the updated rules are the result of work at the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (PUC), by the Interstate Renewable Energy Council (IREC), Fresh Energy and the  Environmental Law & Policy Center (ELPC). In May 2016, the three organizations jointly petitioned the PUC to initiate a proceeding to establish new interconnection standards that better align with the current market for distributed generation, and to achieve greater consistency with national best practices.

The state’s early challenges connecting community solar gardens projects to the grid led to major backlogs and increased delays, and costs for consumers and communities. This prompted the three organizations to request an overhaul of the state’s interconnection rules to improve the process. They were also looking to streamline the interconnection process for rooftop solar systems, which constitute the vast majority of interconnection applications in the state.

“Interconnection standards are an integral component to a strong market and key to sustaining clean energy growth,” according to Sara Baldwin Auck, regulatory director for IREC, an independent national organization working to accelerate clean energy for more than 35 years.

“Minnesota’s interconnection standards were some of the first to be adopted in the country, but they have not been significantly updated since 2004,” adds Sky Stanfield, who represented IREC in the state proceeding through Shute, Mihaly & Weinberger LLP. “Given the state’s upward growth trends in renewable energy, and with new prospects for energy storage and smart inverter adoption on the horizon, the timing for these improvements is important,” says Stanfield.

“With this interconnection standard, Minnesota has laid the groundwork for our transition to clean energy, and will help drive the Minnesota market forward by bringing certainty and transparency,” adds Laura Hannah, senior policy associate at Fresh Energy, an independent nonprofit that provides in-depth policy analysis on energy issues across Minnesota. “The utilities will be much more prepared for increasing volumes of applications and modern technologies.”

Hannah adds: “The partnership was ideal with IREC’s national experience, ELPC’s regional perspective, and Fresh Energy’s local expertise. It was a big lift to overhaul the standards and accomplish what we did as a working group. A key win is recognition from the commission that we can’t let another 12 years go by without updates.”

“With the commission’s decision last week, Minnesota joins a growing list of midwest states adopting common-sense standards to streamline their interconnection process,” says Brad Klein, senior attorney at the Environmental Law & Policy Center, the Midwest’s leading public interest environmental legal advocacy organization. “We hope this decision encourages the remaining states-including Michigan and Wisconsin-to step forward to join Minnesota, Illinois, Iowa and Ohio.”

The recently adopted reforms (ref. Docket E999/CI-16-521) replace existing state rules with new procedures based on a national model established by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), known as the Small Generator Interconnection Procedures (or SGIP), along with some additional national best practices.

While these improvements create greater consistency across all Minnesota utilities – which will translate to cost- and time-savings for project developers, consumers and utilities – the Minnesota PUC declined to adopt some important best practices and deferred some critical decisions to a later point in the process.

Some key elements of the decision:

  • Rules Aligned with National Models: Minnesota adopted interconnection rules based on a 2014 Federal Energy Regulatory Commission model. The use of a more nationally recognized model helps decrease the learning curve for interconnection customers and should facilitate updates in the future as innovations emerge from states using similar frameworks.
  • A Formal Screening Process for Mid-Size Systems: The new rules adopt a fast track and detailed supplemental review process that allows mid-sized projects to be reviewed using a two-tier screening process, rather than requiring all projects to go through a full study process. The value of this change will increase as distributed generation penetration increases. The fast track screens follow the FERC SGIP model but contain a few Minnesota specific modifications; i.e., adopting a more conservative eligibility limit that may send some larger projects to full study unnecessarily.
  • Improved Application and Review Process for Smaller Systems: One of the most important changes allows small rooftop solar projects to use a simplified application and review process. This helps streamline the interconnection process for projects smaller than 20 kW. However, if the current 11-week timeline (average 4 weeks for small systems in other states) is left as is, it could add substantial costs and delays to residential and small commercial customers. The PUC deferred decision on this timeline, so the opportunity for change remains.
  • Addition of Energy Storage: The new rules include energy storage systems in the definition of eligible projects, creating a more clear process for energy storage customers to connect their projects to the grid. Considerably more work needs to be done to streamline this process.
  • Adoption of a Pre-Application Report: The new rules allow interconnection customers to request a pre-application report from their utility, which provides details on the state of the grid at the proposed point of interconnection. This preliminary information allows customers to get a sense early in the process – before they make a large investment of time and money – whether a given project is likely to integrate into the grid at that location, without triggering major upgrades.
  • Reporting on Interconnection: The PUC required utilities with more than 40 applications a year to publish a public interconnection queue that enables customers to track the progress of interconnection projects. It also adopted some temporary annual reporting requirements, which while not comprehensive, are a start to providing enhanced visibility into how well the new interconnection process improvements are working.

With these improvements adopted, the PUC will turn its attention to updating the technical standards document to include smart inverter settings, the requirements for energy storage, and the other deferred issues noted above.

As parties to this involved process, IREC, Fresh Energy and ELPC commend the PUC for the time and energy invested to improve this foundational clean energy policy and look forward to continuing efforts to ensure effective implementation of these rules in 2019.

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: ELPC’s Learner Says Proposed Cardinal-Hickory Creek Transmission Line in Driftless isn’t Needed

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Wisconsin Power Line Pits Green Interests Against Each Other
June 11, 2017
By Lee Bergquist

A fight that involves dueling environmental constituencies is brewing over plans for a massive transmission line that would run through the Driftless Region of southwestern Wisconsin.
Developers say the estimated $500 million, 125-mile line would help buttress the regional power grid and provide access to lower-priced electricity in Iowa and other states.

But like the clamor that has erupted over construction of oil pipelines, transmission lines also engender strong emotions, with opponents often raising environmental objections.

In this case, Wisconsin’s newest power-line proposal pits a pair of green interests: those who see the project as a blight on the picturesque ridges and valleys of the region and those who say it opens up a new route for renewable wind energy from other states.

The Cardinal-Hickory Creek power line would run from west of Madison to Dubuque County in Iowa, where it would be linked to a growing fleet of wind farms that produce no greenhouse gases.

The Wisconsin Public Service Commission, whose members have all been appointed by Republican Gov. Scott Walker, must decide whether the line is needed, and, if so, the best corridor to build it.

The developers have not yet selected precise route options, but recently sent letters to potentially affected property owners.

Two electric transmission companies — Pewaukee-based American Transmission Co. and ITC Midwest of Cedar Rapids, Iowa — lead the project. A third partner is Dairyland Power Cooperative of La Crosse.

The companies expect to make a formal application in 2018. If approved, the new line would begin operating in 2023.

The PSC’s decision will center on the need for a transmission line in a state now brimming with power. Regulators also will assess the ecological impact of a system whose towers will rise half the length of a football field and occupy 150 feet of right-of-way.

A comparable project can now be seen on stretches of I-90/94 in northern Dane and Columbia counties and the Lake Delton area of Sauk County, where another transmission line, the Badger Coulee, is under construction. It will run between Madison and La Crosse.

The Cardinal-Hickory Creek line has been included in a group of more than a dozen transmission projects that the Midwest’s grid operator and planning agency, known as the Midcontinent Independent System Operator, or MISO, says should be built to maintain the reliability of the system and help alleviate traffic jams on the wires.

That means Wisconsin utility customers would pay about 15% of the cost of the line because MISO recommended that it be built for the benefit of the region.

Factors favoring the line, said the leader of a utility watchdog group, are falling electricity prices from wind and mandates in neighboring states for renewable energy that are higher than Wisconsin’s 10%.

On the other hand, electric demand in the state has been flat, said Thomas Content, executive director of the Citizens Utility Board, which will analyze the case when it reaches the PSC.

“From our perspective, it’s making sure the need is justified,” Content said.

New transmission lines are going up as the power industry evolves from heavy reliance on coal-fired plants to a more varied mix that includes natural gas, wind, solar and other renewable sources.

Advocates for more renewable power say shifting to wind requires bigger transmission systems to move power around.

Wisconsin received 3.4% of its electricity from wind last year — up from 2.6% in 2015, according to PSC documents.

But the mix of wind is expected to grow.

With more wind turbines in development in Iowa and elsewhere, and the price of wind power falling, “we are seeing a pretty quick transition in the Midwest and a pretty big increase in wind,” said Tyler Huebner, executive director of Renew Wisconsin.

“We need a more robust system to take advantage of it.”

But big transmission towers are not what David Clutter and others want to see.

“This isn’t your typical part of the Midwest or Wisconsin,” said Clutter, executive director of the Driftless Area Land Conservancy. “Our concern is that it will permanently change the character of the area.”

The Driftless group and others, including the Nature Conservancy of Wisconsin, have land holdings in the region and want to protect remnants of prairies and other ecological features that escaped the scouring impact of glaciers thousands of years ago.

This spring, the Iowa County Board, the towns of Dodgeville and Wyoming in Iowa County and the Village of Spring Green in Sauk County have all passed resolutions opposing the project and expressed concerns about the effect on tourism and recreation.

One potential route lies near a segment of Highway 18 in Dane and Iowa counties that passes the communities of Mount Horeb, Barneveld and Dodgeville where vistas of cornfields and tall grass prairies with scattered oaks can stretch for miles.

Among the worries: The potential effect on parcels like the Military Ridge Prairie Heritage Area, which the state Department of Natural Resources has identified as having the highest priority for grassland protection, and the potential scenic harm the line would have on the 40-mile Military Ridge State Trail that runs along the highway.

If the line swings north, there are concerns on how habitat and wildlife would be affected as it cuts through miles of rolling woodlands and oak savannas where there are little or no existing roads or rights-of-way.

Spokeswoman Kaya Freiman of American Transmission Co. said power lines can co-exist with bike trails and sensitive ecosystems. She said the environmental effects will be “thoroughly reviewed” by regulators.

State law also requires that lines be constructed along existing rights-of-way as much as possible, she said.

Opponents are also challenging the line on economic grounds and say the biggest motivation of the transmission companies is receiving the nearly 11% return permitted by regulators on investments to build power lines.

They also note that electric demand has been dropping because of energy conservation and lingering effects of the recession.

On days with peak electric demand, utilities in Wisconsin last year produced 17% more power than was needed, according to PSC figures, and the agency expects it to remain nearly as high in the next five years.

“Very tall towers and transmission lines aren’t needed,” said attorney Howard Learner, executive director of the Chicago-based Environmental Law & Policy Center, which has been hired by the Driftless Area Land Conservancy.

“There is already a surplus of generating capacity.”

READ MORE

Dodgeville Chronicle Interviews Howard on Driftless Area Work

Dodgeville Chronicle

September 22, 2016

Chicago Environmental Law Group Tours Potential Power Line Routes in Iowa County

By Denise Thornton and Doug Hansmann

On Monday a busload of two dozen Chicagoans toured some of the most scenic spots in Iowa County, but these were no ordinary tourists. They were board members and staff of the Environmental Law and Policy Center (ELPC), a major Midwest public interest environmental legal advocacy and eco-business innovation organization.

Their route took them along the two proposed corridors for the American Transmission Company (ATC) high voltage power line.

ELPC’s staff of attorneys, policy advocates, finance advisors, communications experts and organizers take on issues concerning climate change, clean energy, clean air, clean water, transportation and special places of environmental interest. It is the last category that brought them to southwest Wisconsin.

Working with the Driftless Area Land Conservancy (DALC), a 15-year old Dodgeville-based land trust that has helped protect 6,000 acres of natural land from development, ELPC opposes the installation of the proposed high-voltage line that would carry electricity between Dubuque County, Iowa and Middleton, Wisconsin, adding about 500 steel towers to the landscape of southwest Wisconsin, each one standing 10 to 15 stories tall. The proposed line is slated to pass through some of Iowa County’s most fragile environments and places of great natural beauty.

The tour began at Brigham County Park looking out over the countryside beyond.

“The Driftless Area is an area where continental glaciers over the past two million years never touched the landscape,” explained David Clutter, executive director of DALC to the tour group.

ATC has proposed two possible routes for the transmission lines, which were marked in blue on the maps handed to the ELPC staff, board members and guests.

“This whole landscape is a very special place, but the transmission lines would come right through,” said Clutter, “either on the north side of Brigham Park or the south side.”

Mark Mittelstadt, a forester and DALC board member added, “We have heard a height of 150 feet for the power lines. The trees are about 75 feet tall, so the transmission towers would be standing well above the top of the woodlands.”

Howard Learner, executive director of ELPC, noted that The Nature Conservancy, a leading global conservation organization, has named the Military Ridge Prairie Heritage Area (95,000 acres of grassland landscape in Dane and Iowa counties) a priority area to protect because it provides habitat for declining species. With more than 60 prairie remnants, it is one of the highest concentrations of native grasslands left in the Midwest.

Read more at http://www.thedodgevillechronicle.com/main.asp?SectionID=1&SubSectionID=8&ArticleID=7448&TM=53601.61

 

Midwest Energy News: ELPC’s Mandelbaum Discusses Incentives Generation & Transmission Co-Ops Gain from FERC Ruling

Rural electric cooperatives and municipal utilities are better-positioned to obtain power from renewable sources in the wake of a decision last month by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

And some clean-energy advocates believe that as a result, renewable sources will be a larger part of the generation mix for the small utilities that serve a significant proportion of Midwestern electricity customers.

In a case from Colorado, the FERC ruled that the generation and transmission co-ops that provide power to the nation’s retail power coops may not impose surcharges on members to compensate for revenue lost when member co-ops purchase renewable power as required by the federal Public Utility Regulatory Policies Act (PURPA).

The ruling elaborates on a decision the FERC made a year ago regarding the “all-requirements” contracts that many retail co-ops and municipal utilities have signed with their suppliers.

The contracts typically commit them to purchase all – or nearly all — of their power from that supplier for several decades into the future. These restrictive contracts can prevent those utilities from investing in renewable projects.

The Rudd-Rockford-Marble Rock Community School District in Iowa, for example, began planning a large solar project a couple of years ago as a means of reducing its increasingly burdensome power bills. The district planned an array that would produce about twice the energy it expected to use, with the aim of selling excess power back to the local municipal utility.

The wholesale supplier, the Municipal Energy Agency of Nebraska, warned the district and the utility that it would require the utility to continue paying for power it no longer would be selling to the school district.

The school district has put the project aside for the time being, and negotiated a lower rate from the local utility. District superintendent Keith Turner said he hopes eventually to resurrect the idea of a solar array.

The FERC made clear, in the first of the two rulings, that retail co-ops are required by PURPA to buy power from “qualifying facilities” that wish to sell renewable energy to them. Their obligation under PURPA supersedes an “all-requirements” contract with a supplier.

According to Tracy Warren of the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, one important and overlooked point is that contracts actually are made between one co-op and all of the other co-ops that together are members of the generation and transmission, or G and T, co-op.

If the implication there is that one co-op’s renewable power would come at the expense of its fellow co-op members, it’s “similar to the net metering argument – but on a larger scale,” said Josh Mandelbaum, an attorney for the Environmental Law & Policy Center. “They’re saying that if one co-op or muni gets less power from the G and T, then that G and T won’t be able to recover their fixed costs. You can make that assertion, but it might not be at all true from an actual cost perspective.”

Will co-ops be interested?

So how much will this latest ruling increase access to renewable power for customers of co-ops and municipal utilities that are bound by all-requirements contracts?

Allison Clements, senior attorney with the Sustainable FERC Project for the Natural Resources Defense Council, believes that co-ops and municipal utilities will seize this opportunity to invest in renewable power.

“The signals we are getting from small entities is that they want to buy clean power and diversify their fuel mix,” she said. “They are absolutely interested. There is a whole host of progressive munis and co-ops that want to purchase clean power.”

John Farrell, director of the energy democracy initiative at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance in Minneapolis, is less confident — at least in the near-term.

“The co-ops that already have been agitating for some flexibility – which is a small number – are really going to start to use this to their greatest advantage,” he said. “They may start to look like Farmers Electric Cooperative in Iowa. That’s a very small co-op that doesn’t have one of these contracts, so they have had a lot more flexibility.”

More broadly, Farrell said, “I don’t think we will see a lot of renewables.”

A couple of factors could get in the way, as Farrell sees it. One, quite simply, is “the conservative nature of most co-op boards,” he said.

The other is the change in rural coop culture that is a consequence of the long-term contracts themselves.

“In many cases,” he said, “it’s been 30 or 40 years since the co-op owned a power plant. The problem now is you have that inertia in terms of the culture of the organization. Maybe there’s not even expertise in terms of how to build and own a power plant or to make a (power purchase agreement). I don’t expect huge growth in co-ops from this ruling in the next 12 months.”

He pointed out that there is also the question of debt. When wholesale power providers invest in generation and transmission assets, they generally tap their member co-ops to pay the bill. Although the FERC’s ruling gives retail coops some wiggle room as to how much power they must buy, they remain obligated to pay their share of any outstanding debt, according to Farrell. And if there is a lot of debt to be paid, he said, retail co-ops may decide they can’t afford to add on the cost of power from another source.

Farrell and Clements see another possible path to more renewables, though. Retail co-ops and municipal utilities could press their wholesale providers to invest in renewable energy on their behalf. A couple of Midwestern wholesale co-ops — Dairyland Power Cooperative and Great River Energy — are doing that now.

Mandelbaum of the ELPC said the FERC rulings “give those G and Ts an incentive to be forward-looking and more responsive not just to member coops, but to individual community members interested in renewable options.”

Keep Reading

Learner Op-Ed in Duluth News Tribune on Falling Oil Prices and Controversial Pipelines

Regional View: Falling Oil Prices A Game Changer for Midwestern Pipelines

By Howard A. Learner

February 29, 2016

Bakken shale oil and Canadian oil sands market prices are low, and oil production is falling. Enbridge Energy Partners just announced it is further delaying construction of both the controversial proposed new Sandpiper oil pipeline and the Line 3 replacement oil pipeline for two more years until 2019. Enbridge blamed the Minnesota Court of Appeals’ decision requiring an Environmental Impact Statement process be completed.

However, that’s likely only part of the story.

Pipeline companies are biting the bullet and deferring new projects because of oil price and production uncertainties. Before Enbridge Energy and its partners spend $2.6 billion to $3 billion on each of the Sandpiper and Line 3 replacement oil pipelines through northern Minnesota, they might pause and see whether oil prices stay low and production declines. Markets matter.

The market price for benchmark West Texas Intermediate crude oil is low at around $33 per barrel, having fallen from the $100 per barrel range in 2011 through mid-2014. JP Morgan forecasts West Texas Intermediate crude oil to average $31.50 per barrel in 2016, and Goldman Sachs pro-jects $40 per barrel. Analyst projections for 2017 through 2018 vary considerably. Low oil prices mean fewer rigs, less oil production, and less need for new pipelines.

Bakken shale oil’s break-even prices are around $40 to $45 per barrel, well above the current market price. Production costs vary depending on how rich the particular oil well is, the efficiency of the company’s operations, financing costs, and how close the rig is to infrastructure. Bakken shale oil must be transported by pipeline or rail to distant Midwestern or Texas refineries.

The number of active drilling rigs in North Dakota is the lowest since July 2009. There are now only 38 active rigs in the Bakken area, down from 204 rigs in February 2012.

According to North Dakota Department of Mineral Resources Director Lynn Helms, Bakken output fell to 1.15 million barrels a day in December 2015, down 6 percent below the all-time high in December 2014. Helms stated that oil production could fall to 1 million barrels per day by late 2016. Oil production and service companies are planning more layoffs, and there could be additional bankruptcies in June 2016 when banks often recalculate their debt limits for oil companies.

Unless and until West Texas Intermediate oil prices reach around $45 per barrel, the rig count and oil production will continue to decline in the Bakken shale oil region, meaning less demand for oil pipelines such as Sandpiper and crude shipping by rail. For example, Whiting Petroleum just announced that it will suspend its Bakken shale oil drilling projects due to low oil prices.

Canadian oil sands’ break-even prices for new production are around $80 per barrel for the “best of the best,” $90 to $100 per barrel for the “rest of the best,” and $100-plus per barrel for the “rest of the rest.” Canadian oil production likely will stagnate until global oil prices reach at least $80 per barrel. Some existing oil sands production operations have enormous sunk costs and might continue to operate as a long-term play as producers wait and hope for higher oil prices.  However, expect production to decline and no new oil sands production to start.

Less oil production means less need for new pipelines. Financing for new North American oil pipelines is drying up until bankers and other investors see oil prices rise, leading to more production. That’s the market situation facing Enbridge for its costly new Sandpiper and Line 3 replacement oil pipelines.

Oil prices have dropped dramatically over the past 15 months. That changed reality has unavoidable market consequences for both oil production and the controversial pipelines.

Howard A. Learner of Chicago is executive director of the Environmental Law & Policy Center, an advocacy organization for environmental and economic development with offices in Chicago, Duluth and other Midwestern cities.

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