Keep Competitive Bidding for Power Line Projects

  • February 15, 2024
870 450 Tom Content

March 13 UPDATE: The state Senate adjourned Tuesday without voting on this bill, meaning it failed to pass. CUB thanks our members and supporters who called their legislators to voice their opposition to this bill! See news coverage here.

Wisconsin’s utilities are pushing hard to pass “Right of First Refusal” legislation, AB 470 and SB 481, which would allow them to build power lines that connect to their existing ones without having to compete with other companies for the projects.

Why is this bad? What could go wrong?

Exhibit A: The Cardinal Hickory Creek power line in Southwest Wisconsin. It was not required to be competitively bid, is currently $158 million over the approved cost, still lacks needed construction permits, is still not complete, and has no cost cap measures in place.

That’s bad. The Cardinal Hickory Creek fiasco is the poster child FOR competitive bidding.

It’s important to note that the utilities don’t see Cardinal Hickory Creek cost overruns as a problem. They see them as an opportunity to make more money, since the more they spend the more their profits go up.

If AB 470 and SB481, which passed the Assembly Thursday, Feb. 15 and is pending in the Senate, Wisconsin could see this happen again and again.

Wisconsin utility companies are flooding Madison with campaign donations. And they have more than 50 lobbyists actively working in the Capitol to push these two bills through. There’s more lobbying on this bill than any other bill lawmakers were working on this session, including the high-profile bill to provide funding for the Milwaukee Brewers ballpark.

That’s a lot of lobbyists and a lot of money flowing to change state law. Hold on to your wallets.

There’s a better way: Competitive bidding has been shown to save 30% or more on new power line projects. Wisconsin and other Midwest states are already seeing savings from competitive bidding. These projects (unlike the Cardinal Hickory Creek project) are incentivized to provide protections for consumers, include cost caps, and lower than the double-digit profits our utilities earn when building new lines.

Examples of effective competitive bidding:

Hipple to IN/MI State Border 345 kV Project Winning Bid Included:
• Lowered return on equity 
• Profit reductions for project delays 
• Annual revenue caps 
Fairport to Denny to IA/MO State Border 345 kV Project Winning Bid Included: 
• Project implementation cap 
• Annual operation and maintenance caps 
• Lowered return on equity 
• 49% of project is tax exempt due to partnership to build project 

Here in Wisconsin, Dairyland Power Cooperative recently won a competitive bid, with savings for its members. This shows competitive bidding is working — but the big Wisconsin utilities want no part of cost savings. 

Please call or email your state Senator today and get your voice heard. Tell your senator We don’t want the Cardinal Hickory Creek fiasco repeated over and over. The Legislature should act in your best interests — not the utilities’ — by voting “NO” on SB 481.

Help us hold the line on costly overruns and retain competitive bidding as a tool to keep costs down!

Read Guest Column in Capital Times:

Crony capitalism may cost Wisconsin electricity consumers | Guest Columns |

See Wisconsin Public Radio news story about the Assembly vote:

Bill limiting competition for transmission lines passes state Assembly – WPR

See column by former Mayor Dave Cieslewicz in Isthmus:

Hear CUB E.D. Tom Content talk about the problem with this bill on WFDL Radio, Fond du Lac

citizens utility board executive director tom content-utilities right of first refusal in BTL 2-12 (

Hear interview with Tom Content on WPR The Morning Show with Kate Archer Kent:

Regulations of public utilities, Polling on Republican voters, Puberty starting earlier – WPR