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There are as many people who are happy to see a new electric transmission line that'll stretch from near Madison, Wisconsin, to near Dubuque, Iowa, as there are folks who are angry about it.  

Wisconsin's Public Service Commission on Tuesday gave their preliminary approval to the Cardinal-Hickory Creek Project. The line will carry power from Middleton, Wisconsin, to Dubuque. 

The PSC ruled that the benefits of the new, 100 mile high voltage line outweigh the risks. 

"Getting low-cost, clean energy from where it is plentiful in the west to where it is needed, and at the scale that it is needed, cannot be done without building transmission infrastructure," Commission Chairperson Rebecca Cameron Valcq said. "I firmly believe that it will provide tangible economic and reliability benefits to Wisconsin customers, and will serve as the cornerstone to achieving a zero carbon future."

Valcq said the new transmission line should make it easier for wind and solar farms in southwestern Wisconsin and northeastern Iowa to get their power to customers.

But not everyone agrees. 

The Citizens Utility Board of Wisconsin says claims about the green energy benefits of the new power line are not based on solid math. 

“The PSC justified its decision in part on the ability of the line to bring in low-cost renewable energy. However, this is not guaranteed,” CUB Executive Director Tom Content said. “The utilities themselves never modeled how much new wind power would be generated by this project, and the limited analysis they did perform showed the line would bring only a small amount of wind and solar power into Wisconsin.”

Much of the opposition to the new power line came from local governments across southwestern Wisconsin. 

State Rep. Dave Considine, D-Baraboo, is one of four Democrastic lawmakers who on Tuesday said towns and cities in the path of the new project are still not on board. 

"We have all received a great deal of contact in opposition to this project from both local units of government and concerned constituents," Considine wrote in a statement. "To say that we are disappointed at the decision to go through with this project would be an understatement."

But some of Wisconsin's clean energy companies are thrilled with the PSC's decision. 

The Clean Grid Alliance said new infrastructure is exactly what Wisconsin needs to promote renewable energy in the state, and in the upper Midwest.

“The demand for more renewable energy is palpable and the Cardinal-Hickory Creek transmission line will provide the ability to access and deliver renewables," Clean Grid Alliance Executive Director Beth Soholt said. "We are seeing an ever-increasing stream of state governments, utilities and corporations announcing plans for more renewable energy because of its low cost and environmental benefits. Our members are ready to fulfill their needs."

The new line will cost about $500 million. Customers of the power companies that use the new line will pay for its construction. The PCS said that cost could be $67 million in Wisconsin. 

The PSC is expected to issue its final ruling on the project next month. But don't look for construction to begin quickly. A number of opponents are hinting that they will go to court to try and stop the project. 

Staff Writer

An industry veteran with two decades of experience in media, Benjamin Yount reports on Illinois and Wisconsin statewide issues for The Center Square.