If you live in Dubuque or Clayton counties, you have likely heard about the Cardinal-Hickory Creek transmission line. Cardinal-Hickory Creek is one of a group of high-power transmission lines designed to grow wind energy in Iowa.

More than 1,700 megawatts of wind projects around the state are depending on this line. That wind development will deliver environmental benefits, such as reducing the burning of coal and fracked gas, and improving air quality across the region.

That wind development also provides a major economic boost, bringing jobs and tax revenue to support roads, schools and hospitals, and revenue to area landowners.

The Cardinal-Hickory Creek line is one we are watching closely from a conservation perspective because it crosses the Mississippi River.

On the Iowa side, this involves a route through part of the Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge. We do not take such a route or crossing lightly. As we have seen, neither does ITC Midwest, the transmission developer building this line.

In 2012, Iowa’s leading environment and conservation groups sent a letter to ITC Midwest as it was beginning to plan major transmission lines in Iowa, including Cardinal-Hickory Creek. We offered to provide information that would help the company avoid local environmental impacts.

The response we got from ITC Midwest was prompt and enthusiastic and resulted in a series of discussions in the years that followed.

After receiving feedback from us and other stakeholders, ITC narrowed the river crossing options to seven possible locations. We studied these options and made personal visits to every one of them to evaluate the best place for the crossing and for the rest of the route.

In this review, we prioritized using existing infrastructure like roads, dams and, ideally, transmission lines. We concluded that the option that will upgrade an already existing transmission line that currently crosses the Mississippi River from the refuge in Clayton County to the Wisconsin town of Cassville is most preferable.

We support this line because Iowa’s land, wildlife and natural resources are facing the unprecedented threat of climate change. We need to move quickly to deploy clean energy that will reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Transmission is the critical link that connects the windy areas of the state to the cities and towns with large energy demand. While Iowa leads the U.S. in the percentage of electricity from wind, fossil fuels are still a large part of our electricity mix. More wind, solar and storage — and the transmission that moves those resources from where they are made to where they are used — are needed to transition to 100 percent clean energy.

We can reduce carbon and other air emissions to improve public health and to address climate change if we can advance projects like Cardinal-Hickory Creek. Iowa’s renewable energy resource is abundant and affordable and can meet our energy needs many times over, but tapping into that resource requires improving and expanding the power grid.

The Cardinal-Hickory Creek project has been carefully planned, is using an existing transmission line to cross the Refuge and is key next step in the clean energy transition.

Harr is president and chief operating officer of Iowa Audubon. Johannsen is energy program director of the Iowa Environmental Council.

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