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Hig-voltage power line plan sparks controversy

MADISON, Wis. – A power giant is hoping to bring more high-voltage transmission lines to Madison, promising to deliver clean and green energy from the west.

But critics are questioning the logic of building a 150-mile power line for electricity that could be generated closer to home.

Proposed at $425 million, American Transmission Company said ratepayers would only see a one percent increase in their bills.

But some say the goal should be energy bills decreasing, not increasing.

“This project certainly covers a huge geography,” said Sarah Justus of American Transmission Company. “Madison is not the destination, but rather a point at which we can reinforce the transmission system where it is already built up, to a connection in La Crosse where we currently have a gap in that southwestern region.”

Spokespeople for ATC say they hope to transform the energy landscape, saying more tall towers offset the need for lower-voltage upgrades while bringing in lower-cost wind energy from our west.

Not everyone is so sure.

“That’s what ATC is saying, but that has yet to be proven,” said Katie Nekola of Clean Wisconsin.

Clean energy advocates say that if being green is what ATC is going for, they don’t need to leave the state to accomplish their mission.

“We already send millions and billions of dollars out of state to supply our energy needs when we buy coal and gas,” said Nekola.

Meanwhile, ATC says it wants opinions like Nekola’s as they flesh out their plan.

“Whether they be about the need for the project, environmental in nature, potential impact on their property,” said Justus of the desire for voices. “We are early on in this project.”

But critics of a plan that covers more than 150 miles across southern Wisconsin feel the best answer lies in less, not more.

“So if you spend $425 million on this transmission line, you could be investing that in energy efficiency,” said Nekola.

Preliminary routes for the project won’t be proposed until summer 2012.

And ATC won’t even file their application with the Public Service Commission until 2013.

The company’s goal is to have the line in service by 2018.

ATC will be holding two open houses in the Madison area to get public input on the project.

The first will be Wednesday, June 29, at Mauston Grayside Elementary School in Mauston.

The other will be Thursday, June 30, at Waunakee Middle School in Waunakee.

Both open houses will last from 1 p.m. to 7 p.m.

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