Blog | American Transmission Co. - Part 4
Transmission project interconnecting 300-megawatt solar facility earns regulatory approval from PSCW
As ATC integrates more renewable energy generation within our service area, the electric transmission system continues to provide a vital connection between renewable energy producers and electric consumers. We recently earned state regulatory approval from the Public Service Commission of Wisconsin to construct electric transmission facilities that will interconnect with Wisconsin’s largest renewable energy generation facility to date within our service area – the 300 megawatt (MW) Badger Hollow Solar Park in Iowa County, Wis.
“ATC’s Badger Hollow Network Upgrades Project will provide the necessary high-voltage electric interconnection to transport the forthcoming clean energy from the Badger Hollow Solar Park onto the grid,” said Nick Hanold, ATC senior project manager.
Components of ATC’s project include expanding the Highland Substation in the town of Eden, Wis., constructing a new double-circuit 69,000-volt transmission and modifying existing transmission line structures in the region for required uprating. At an estimated cost of $15.6 million, construction will begin in August 2021 and is anticipated to be complete by the end of the year.
The Badger Hollow Solar Park is projected to come online in two phases: Badger Hollow I at 150MW with an anticipated Commercial Operation Date in 2021, and Badger Hollow II for the remaining 150MW with a COD by the end of 2022. Generation from Badger Hollow I will interconnect to the transmission system to the Highland Substation through buildouts ATC completed in August 2020.
Among the Midwest’s largest solar facilities, the Badger Hollow Solar Park is jointly owned by WEC Energy Group utilities We Energies and Wisconsin Public Service (WPS), as well as Madison Gas and Electric (MGE). Each utility will own 100 MW of the energy produced. The facility is being developed by Chicago-based Invenergy.
When an ATC employee read a story in the Stoughton Courier Hub about a light pole with an osprey nest being removed from a baseball diamond at Stoughton High School, he kicked off a concerted team effort to provide the birds with a new place to raise their young.
ATC contacted the city of Stoughton and Stoughton Utilities about donating a utility pole and nesting platform. ATC’s environmental department, together with local avian expert and Stoughton resident Patrick Ready, identified a suitable location for a new osprey nest. Before approving the location, the City solicited feedback from adjacent residents.
ATC’s construction partner M.J. Electric delivered the to the location and ATC delivered the three-by-three-foot nesting platform to Stoughton Utilities, which had agreed to install the pole with the assistance of its construction partner Hooper Corp.
Stoughton Utilities and Hooper installed the new nesting platform and pole in a public green space adjacent to Paradise Pond and south of Nottingham Road roughly a half-mile west of Stoughton High School.
According to the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, about 87 percent of Wisconsin’s breeding osprey population nest on platforms. Osprey generally return to Wisconsin in late March/early April to raise their young.
ATC maintains more than 200 nesting platforms on or adjacent to its transmission structures to enable eagles, herons, osprey and other birds to nest safely. Most of ATC’s nesting platforms support breeding osprey pairs.
In 2020, ATC installed three osprey nesting platforms near Portage, Wis., and donated two nesting platforms to the city of Manitowoc and six to the Waupaca Biological Field Station to support their osprey conservation efforts.
Two Wisconsin cities and a county park replaced trees lost to emerald ash borer infestations in 2020 thanks to grants from American Transmission Co.’s Community Planting Program.
The emerald ash borer is an invasive beetle introduced from Asia. First detected in Wisconsin in 2008, it has since been found in more than 50 of Wisconsin’s 72 counties. EAB attacks all species of ash trees, except mountain ash, which are not true ash trees.
The village of Bellevue used its $1,500 grant to plant shingle oak, frontier elm and dawn redwood trees within the East River Trail Arboretum, which also helped increase the village’s tree diversity.
The city of Plymouth used its $2,000 grant to help replace some of the 100 trees damaged by emerald ash borer infestation. The city purchased small trees in the spring and kept them in a gravel bed until fall to help increase each tree’s root mass to improve the trees’ survival rate. This approach enabled the city to stretch its funding and plant twice as many trees. The trees were planted in parks and other public spaces throughout the city.
The Ozaukee County Planning and Parks District used its $2,500 grant to continue restoring a warm-season prairie within Tendick Nature Park, a 125-acre county park approximately 5 miles north of Saukville. The County planted a variety of native trees – like American hornbeam, bur oak, quaking aspen and white oak – within and around the prairie restoration site to help create a savannah-like ecosystem, increase the diversity of the surrounding forest and wetland habitats, and help filter stormwater that flows from the park into the Milwaukee River.
Our Community Planting Program encourages and supports communities to plant trees and vegetation that beautify the landscape in a way that doesn’t compromise the safety and reliability of the electric transmission system. Since 2013, ATC has awarded approximately 240 communities and organizations with funds totaling more than $425,000.
ATC accepts applications from July 1 through Sept. 30, and award recipients are selected and notified by the end of the year. Awards range from $100 to $5,000. Additional information and program applications can be found at atc-GrowSmart.com.
Last fall, American Transmission Co. contributed funds to help establish Zoo School at Madison’s Henry Vilas Zoo. The program was created to address the needs of students who struggled to get access to the virtual school format during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Zoo School is a collaboration between the Henry Vilas Zoo, the Madison Metropolitan School District, Madison School and Community Recreation, the Bayview Foundation, a nonprofit organization that owns and operates an affordable housing development and community center near the zoo, and the Goodman Community Center.
In spring of 2020, when the pandemic hit and schools had to shift quickly to virtual classrooms, many students, including some in the zoo’s neighboring Bayview community, were left behind. The following summer, Henry Vilas Zoo was able to successfully put together a safe educational camp program and realized they could modify their program to safely educate students in their facilities during the regular school year. Thus, the idea for Zoo School was born.
The zoo reached out to the community to fund Zoo School and submitted a request to ATC for support. ATC approved a donation of $2,500 to support the estimated cost of one student to attend Zoo School.
Zoo School is a great success. The program has served 26 students over the course of the school year including kids from Bayview and other high needs communities. Students have enjoyed reading to the animals, unique adventures including snowshoeing on Lake Wingra and weekly field trips to nearby parks thanks to the University of Wisconsin Arboretum, another zoo partner. Students are at a number of different school levels, and instructors coordinate with MMSD on virtual schedules and assignments. Two nutritious hot meals a day are provided by the Goodman Community Center. Zoo School continues today and is anticipated to continue until Madison schools reopen.
Henry Vilas Zoo Conservation Education Coordinator Jess Thompson said, “The kids have been able to keep up with their virtual schooling, and it’s been incredible to watch their progress in confidence, empathy for animals and people, and scientific inquiry skills. Some students who didn’t show up for a single virtual class in the spring are now connecting with their teachers every day and completing homework assignments.”
ATC is proud to support community efforts like the Henry Vilas Zoo School that help everyone in our community thrive and succeed, especially during these unprecedented times.
The four-acre native prairie surrounding American Transmission Co.’s Pewaukee, Wis., headquarters has been recertified as a native landscape by the Wildlife Habitat Council after meeting WHC’s strict requirements for voluntarily managing the site as a sustainable ecosystem. The prairie has been certified by WHC since 2018.
Establishing a prairie takes years
In 2009, we transformed a field surrounding our new headquarters building and parking lot into a native grassland prairie.
“Establishing a native prairie like ours takes years of cultivation,” said Johanna Sievewright, ATC environmental project manager.
Initially, botanists from one of our environmental partners identified native plant species suitable for the region, soil type and hydrology. They also looked for species that would provide a range of flowering times throughout the growing season for pollinators and consulted with Xerces Society, an international nonprofit organization focused on the conservation of insects and their habitats, to develop plant lists that favored pollinators.
The prairie was first seeded with a specially developed seed mixture and plant plugs were installed. Since the initial site development, the native plant diversity has significantly increased and now provides a thriving habitat for birds, bees, butterflies and other pollinators.
Using fire to maintain the prairie
While one of the benefits of native landscaping is that it requires less maintenance, that doesn’t stop non-native and invasive plant species from continually encroaching. ATC uses an integrated approach to manage the native prairie habitat. Multiple control and prevention methods have been used on invasive species within the prairie.
“We have to manage it proactively,” said Amy Tillman, facilities program manager. “Prescribed burns are one of the best ways to do that.”
Prescribed burning is a common prairie management tool. In addition to thwarting invasive plants, native plants that thrive in this environment tend to regenerate after the burn as healthier plants because many of Wisconsin’s native prairie grasses and flowers developed adaptations to survive fire. Their deep roots and buds beneath the soil enable them to withstand fire, while shallow-rooted, non-native plants succumb to the heat. Fire stimulates the growth of native plants, while also returning valuable nutrients to the soil. The prairie underwent prescribed burns in 2015 and 2019.
Incorporating native plants into your landscaping
A prairie may not be practical for your back yard, but you can help pollinating insects like bees and butterflies by adding just a few native prairie plants to your garden or landscaping. Wildflowers like purple coneflower, butterfly weed, and smooth blue aster will add color and provide food for bees, birds and butterflies. Prairie grasses like little bluestem and prairie dropseed can add interest to your landscaping while also providing food and shelter for pollinators. For additional suggestions, print our Grow Smart Planting Guide or Grow Smart Pollinator Guide and bring it to your local garden center.