American Transmission Co. and Xcel Energy on Tuesday filed an application with state regulators proposing to build a nearly 182-mile power line linking the Madison and La Crosse areas, at a cost of up to $552 million.
The utilities contend the line would result in lower energy costs for utility customers over time and a more efficient transfer of power between Minnesota and Wisconsin, as well as enhanced ability to import electricity from wind farms built to the west of Wisconsin.
Utility-funded studies project “net economic benefits” of $259 million to $841 million over 40 years because of the enhanced access to inexpensive power in the wholesale electricity market. The project also would avoid the need to spend $160 million on local reliability upgrades, according to the utilities.
The controversial project has generated opposition from town and county boards that have passed resolutions, as well as citizen groups including Save Our Unique Lands of Wisconsin. More than 90 boards have passed resolutions seeking for a deeper analysis of alternatives.
The utilities are proposing two alternate routes for the project, both of which are proposed to link to two substations in Dane County, located in Middleton and Vienna.
The filing Tuesday kicks off a Public Service Commission regulatory review process that the utilities expect will take a year to 18 months. If the project is approved, construction would start in 2016 and be completed in 2018.
The project was slowed down somewhat after ATC and Xcel became embroiled in an ownership dispute over the project. ATC wanted to be sole owner of the line, which would mean that the earnings from building the line would flow to ATC’s parents, primarily We Energies, Wisconsin Public Service Corp. and Madison’s two utilities.
But the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission last year sided with Xcel, saying it was entitled to joint ownership of the project.The shorter of the two routes would extend 159 miles and cost $514 million, while the longer route would stretch 182 miles and cost $548 million to $552 million. The utilities said that it prefers the northern portion in certain stretches of the project because that route is more closely aligned with existing utility, railroad or highway corridors.
The longer route would be built along Interstate 94 between Wisconsin Dells and Black River Falls.
Here is a map of the routes proposed by ATC and Xcel.
“We appreciate the public’s active involvement over the past several years in helping us evaluate possible routes,” said Greg levesque, ATC environmental and local relations manager, in a statement. “We’ve looked at hundreds of paths for these lines and made adjustments based on what we learned from area landowners, businesses, community organizations and local officials.”
A coalition of groups opposed to the line released a statement saying the focus should be on alternatives rather than the route alternatives put forward by the utilities. They want an analysis comparing the project with alternatives that would greatly enhance use of energy efficiency technologies, locally-generated power and lower-voltage lines to boost reliability.
“I agree with the dozens of municipalities and county boards that passed resolutions calling for a wiser approach to our energy future,” said state Sen. Dale Schultz, R-Richland Center, in the groups’ statement. “Before we acquiesce to Wall Street investors on how and where billions of our utility rate dollars will go, we, the Wisconsin community, can look at alternatives to putting all our eggs in the grid build-
Wisconsin has ample power to meet customer demand for electricity, said Rep. Fred Clark, D-Baraboo. “That’s why we’re calling on the PSC to protect the public interest by evaluating all of our options for meeting energy needs in Wisconsin before considering large scale transmission projects. We need to adopt policies that assure Wisconsin energy users are actually benefiting from energy investments.”
“Expanding transmission and centralized power does not fit with the image most people have of the energy future,” said Jane Powers, a Mauston area dairy farmer. “Building these lines across the state would be like us spending billions on expanding land line phone service as we move more and more toward cellular phones.”
The project would link up with the La Crosse-to-Rochester, Minn. power line being built by a consortium of utilities including Xcel Energy. Dairyland Power Cooperative and WPPI Energy, which are partners in the La Crosse-to-Madison line, are potential investors in the new line, known as Badger Coulee, the application says.
The project was already approved by planners at the Midcontinent Independent System Operator, based in Carmel, Ind. MISO is responsible for the day-to-day operation, and long-term planning, for the Midwest power grid.
MISO’s go-ahead doesn’t allow construction to proceed, as the PSC must determine that the project is needed and, if it does that, select a route for the line. If it is built, the MISO approval means that customers across the Midwest, and not just those in Wisconsin, will pay for the project. In turn, Wisconsin customers would have to pay for other similar regional projects built in other states.
The fact that the project has been endorsed by MISO may make this an uphill fight for opponents of the project.
The decision in this case “will have profound consequences on Wisconsin’s energy future,” said Rob Danielson, secretary of Save Our Unique Lands of Wisconsin, a citizens group and one of several groups in a coalition that’s mobilizing against Badger Coulee. “We feel every household and business owner in Wisconsin should be invited to provide their own energy priorities. It’s our money. We will lose control of it if we do not come forward.”
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