Energizing Your Future

What's Current | ATC - Part 2

Solo-Driver Plus takes to the field

Introduced and tested in 2019, Solo-Driver Plus was used on a construction project for the first time in its history. The patent-pending foundation installation method installed 80 caisson foundations to support new steel structures for transmission line rebuild project in Adams and Waushara counties.

Set up and driving takes minutes to accomplish with Solo-Driver Plus with very little ground disturbance, making it faster and more environmentally friendly than traditional installation methods.

After the launch of the initial Solo-Driver design in 2015, a team of engineers focused on evolution of the excavator installed caisson concept.  Solo-Driver Plus’s “H” design provided ATC the opportunity to improve drivability and corrosion resistance as well as simplify fabrication, potentially reducing associated costs.  A second variation was also developed and initially tested that has the potential to be used on more heavily loaded structures.

ATC submitted a patent application for Solo-Driver Plus in February 2023 and anticipates being awarded a final patent sometime in 2024 or 2025. Solo-Driver and Solo-Driver Plus continue to be great examples of ATC’s spirit of innovation.


ATC joins nationwide effort to help monarch butterflies

Pewaukee, Wis. – ATC is joining a new nationwide effort to restore and increase the monarch butterfly population.

The monarch butterfly population has shrunk by 80% in the eastern United States since the 1990s due to the loss of habitat and food sources. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is considering listing the monarch butterfly as threatened or endangered by 2024.

One of Wisconsin’s first utilities to join the National Monarch Butterfly Candidate Conservation Agreement with Assurances (CCAA) for Energy and Transportation Lands, ATC also was one of 45 energy companies and transportation companies who worked with the University of Illinois-Chicago and the Rights-of-Way as Habitat Working Group to develop the voluntary conservation agreement.

Approved by the USFWS in April 2020, the CCAA is the largest agreement of its kind ever developed and represents an unprecedented cross-section collaboration between industries and the USFWS. Over the next two decades the agreement is expected to grow to include millions of acres of land managed nationally by energy companies and departments of transportation across the United States.

Enhancing grid reliability and pollinator habitat

The CCAA recognizes the important work that organizations like ATC are already doing for the monarch butterfly and other pollinators, and it provides an incentive to institutionalize beneficial vegetation management practices.

“Much of the habitat conservation potential of the CCAA already exists in our vegetation management practices,” said Michelle Stokes, ATC’s director of field services. “These practices help ATC prevent tree and power line interactions, maintain compliance with regulations, and increase the reliability of the electric grid.”

ATC’s integrated vegetation management practices already help make its transmission lines rights-of-way suitable for pollinators. Roughly 40% of the over 10,000 miles of transmission line right-of-way ATC manages may currently serve as suitable pollinator habitat and our practices help make these areas suitable for pollinators who benefit from the contiguous flight path that the company’s rights-of-way provide. The company also developed a first-of-its-kind model to map and identify existing suitable pollinator habitat and gaps in pollinator pathways along its transmission lines.

ATC works to ensure that adequate clearances between transmission lines, trees and other vegetation are maintained at all times. To achieve safe clearances in the rights‑of‑way, incompatible vegetation is pruned or removed. Vegetation that is likely to re-sprout after cutting may be treated with herbicides to inhibit re-growth. Targeted herbicides use can help promote the growth of compatible vegetation that can thrive and support a suitable habitat for pollinators like the monarch butterfly and other wildlife.

Existing activities support butterfly habitat

Organizations enrolling in the CCAA also commit to implementing conservation measures that address the key threats under their control and to promote diverse breeding and foraging habitat for the monarch butterfly. These measures include activities ATC is already undertaking like seeding and planting with pollinator mixes, setting aside undisturbed areas for habitat, targeted herbicide application, and conservation mowing activities to minimize impacts to the monarch butterfly.

ATC has used pollinator-enhanced seed mix on over 800 acres of land as part of construction projects since it started tracking acres seeded since 2016. The company has also helped over 30 entities that allow public access to our rights-of-way develop roughly 275 acres of pollinator habitat through our Pollinator Habitat grant program since 2017.

For the past eight years, ATC has helped educate landowners about low-growing, pollinator-friendly perennials and grasses can grow and thrive within transmission line rights-of-way through its Grow Smart® program. The company’s four-acre native prairie surrounding its Pewaukee, Wis., headquarters has been certified as a native landscape by the Wildlife Habitat Council since 2018.

Anyone can grow food for monarch butterflies and caterpillars. Milkweed plants – like butterfly weed, common milkweed and swamp milkweed – are the only food source for monarch butterflies. However, adult monarch butterflies can get the nectar they need from many flowering plants. ATC’s Grow Smart Planting Guide provides recommendations on what to plant to support pollinators.

ATC celebrates International Women’s Day

International Women’s Day is an annual holiday intended to celebrate the history and accomplishments of women as well as recognize the existence of inequity for women worldwide. At ATC, we strive to provide intentional resources and benefits to female employees that support their careers, personal life and passions. You can read more about the benefits we offer all employees by viewing our careers site. 

In acknowledgement of International Women’s Day, we’ve compiled quotes from three of the many female employees at ATC who serve as positive role models to women and girls everywhere. Read their stories below. 

“The reward of being a working mom is being able to lead by example. My kids get to see me as a professional – unafraid to take on challenges, speak, and be heard. When looking for a hero or someone to look up to, they don’t have to look outside of their home.” – Rita, ATC project specialist 

“Women are just as capable of holding science, technology, engineering and math positions as men and should not be shut out of these often higher-paying jobs. I can’t show enough appreciation for women who have blazed the trail before me and how they have made my time in STEM easier.” – Christine, ATC senior project manager 

“I started at ATC almost 17 years ago, unmarried and without children. Now as a mom of two boys, ATC continues to support me and enables me to grow my career. I continue to provide for my family, feeling challenged and valued as a woman (not just “mom”) in a fulfilling career with people that genuinely care about and advocate for my success.” – Marcia, ATC regional manager

Southwest Wisconsin Technical College students tour Cardinal-Hickory Creek project

Students pursuing STEM education program talk with ATC, M.J. Electric and Electric TV 

Under an azure sky in the early morning of Feb. 28, a steady stream of cars filed into the Hill Valley Substation access road near Montfort, Wis. Nearly 40 students from Southwest Wisconsin Technical College parked across a span of frosty, wooden mats and emerged from their cars to huddle around ATC senior construction manager, Zac Eide, for the day’s safety brief. 

Students and staff from the school, ATC representatives, members of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers and the National Electrical Contractors Association shuffled their way down the still-frozen mud to get a firsthand look at one of the largest substations under construction in ATC’s footprint. It was the first of five stops along the route for the students to see the Cardinal-Hickory Creek Transmission Line Project – a nearly complete, 102-mile, 345,000-volt transmission line that stretches from western Dane County, Wisconsin, to Dubuque County, Iowa.  

Throughout the tour, there was no shortage of questions. 

“How much oil can the transformer hold?” one student asked.  

“What are the corona rings for?” asked another.  

“What’s the size of this pier foundation?”  

“How much does a substation like this even cost?” 

“Why is the conductor woven together like that?” 

“All great questions,” remarked Eide, who fielded the inquiries. 

The SWTC students are enrolled in the school’s Electric Power Distribution program. While the focus is on electric distribution, it’s often a first step that many students take before enrolling in an apprenticeship. EDP is a 9-month science, technology, engineering and math program that includes an added bonus: earning a commercial driver’s license upon completion. 

ATC alliance contractors, M.J. Electric and MP Systems, have given many SWTC students an apprenticeship in the past, which sometimes leads to that individual working on ATC property. 

IBEW 953 organizer and SWTC liaison, Nick Webber, had contacted ATC in fall 2022 to request the tour. He followed the group with a bright smile, knowing that the students were gaining unique insight into construction techniques from ATC’s contractor for the project, M.J. Electric.  

The tour was documented by Electric TV, a Colorado-based film crew representing the IBEW and NECA. Their joint program features an online broadcast of electrical union laborers working on complex infrastructure projects throughout the country. The online segment is scheduled to be live in March 2023.  

Following the full rotation around the substation components and control house, the group traveled to see the new transmission line construction in portions of Iowa and Dane counties. Across the various stops throughout the morning, students had the opportunity to watch the M.J. Electric crews drilling, framing, setting and doing wire work. 

“Just to see what they’re doing in the substations and the transmission lines…it’s a really big deal,” said SWTC student, Connor Murray. “Seeing it firsthand really helps put everything all together that you learn in school and it’s really good exposure to what we’re going to be doing when we get out of school.” 

Fellow student Kevin Jones offered, “I had a previous career in law enforcement corrections, and I wanted a change. Being a student at Southwest Tech and being part of the tour, you get the opportunity to see what the crews are doing up close and personal. We can read about it and see videos but being here and getting a walk-through step by step, it really opens your eyes. It’s kind of neat to see the guys working and know we’ll have a chance to do what they’re doing.” 

The tour concluded back at the Hill Valley Substation at midday. By then, the sun had melted the frosty mats and the frozen walkways gave way to softer grounds.  

“This was a good day,” said Eide. “Given the engagement and all their interest, hosting these students from SWTC on our Cardinal-Hickory Creek project was an important investment, and time well spent. The students got the opportunity to learn, and we got an opportunity to shape their futures.”  

Aerial saw trims trees from above

At American Transmission Co., our job is to operate our transmission system safely and reliably, and we take that responsibility seriously. An important part of that involves managing the vegetation around our transmission facilities to prevent outages. With more than 10,000 miles of transmission lines, that’s no small job.

One unique approach we take is to get help from above – help from a helicopter, that is. We use a light utility helicopter equipped with a heavy-duty aerial saw to trim the vegetation near some of our lines. Rotary saw blades are suspended on a 90- to 100-foot vertical boom that is attached to the helicopter.

The helicopter/aerial saw combination is particularly effective in areas where difficult terrain and wetlands make it challenging for ground crews to access the transmission line corridor. Aerial saw work is also highly efficient when compared to the work of ground-based crews.

“It takes just a few hours for an aerial saw to complete what typically takes ground crews several days to accomplish,” said Dan Horton, ATC senior vegetation management specialist. “However, the aerial work is weather-dependent so the duration of the work could fluctuate.”

Next week an air-saw equipped helicopter crew is trimming vegetation along lines in six Wisconsin counties—Brown, Calumet, Marathon, Outagamie, Portage and Wood counties.

In the interest of safety, if you see a helicopter/aerial saw in the area, please stay at least 300 feet away from the work area and refrain from stopping, viewing and photographing the work from a roadway.

Want to know more? Check out our YouTube channel for video footage of similar aerial saw vegetation management work.