August 19, 2014

Power line project could cost up to $580 million

By Thomas Content of the Journal Sentinel | Aug. 19, 2014 |

A proposed high-voltage power line linking Madison and La Crosse would cost up to $580 million, of which about $87 million would be paid for by Wisconsin utility customers.

The cost breakdown was included in an environmental assessment released Tuesday that kicks off a public comment period through early October.

Critics of the project, including lawmakers from western Wisconsin, question whether the project is needed given that sales of electricity in recent years have been flat rather than growing.

Utilities proposing the line say the project will boost access to low cost power, give the state a more robust system as coal plants are retired, and help import more wind energy from the Great Plains.

The 345,000-volt power line would be built by American Transmission Co. of Pewaukee and Xcel Energy’s Northern States Power utility in Eau Claire. ATC originally sought to build and own the entire project but federal energy regulators agreed with Xcel that the project ownership should be split.

The draft environmental assessment sets the project cost at $540 million to $580 million, depending on the route. The applicants note that the need for such a line has been recognized in transmission planning studies over the years, including a regional multistate group as well as the grid reliability coordinator for the Midwest.

The project is one of about 17 projects included in a $5.2 billion project portfolio that was approved by the Midcontinent Independent Transmission System Operator in 2011. These so-called “multi-value projects” across the region are to be paid for by customers across the Midwest.

But all of those projects still need to be approved by regulators in each state. The Wisconsin Public Service Commission is expected to issue a decision on the Madison-La Crosse project by April.

In the assessment, written by the PSC and the state Department of Natural Resources, the PSC staff didn’t offer any conclusions about the project’s need.

“The need for the proposed Badger-Coulee project is and will continue to be a subject of scrutiny throughout the Commission’s review process including during the public and technical hearings,” according to the assessment.

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