Expert testimony is piling up as state regulators prepare to rule on a proposed high-voltage transmission line between La Crosse and Dane counties.
Engineers representing two groups opposing the Badger-Coulee line filed testimony Friday refuting the stated need for and benefits of the half-billion dollar project.
Meanwhile, a representative of the wind energy industry has testified that the project will satisfy the state’s need for electricity and lower the cost of renewable energy by providing access to low-cost wind energy.
A joint venture of Xcel Energy and American Transmission Co., the 345-kilovolt Badger-Coulee line would run from a substation under construction on Briggs Road in Holmen to the outskirts of Madison.
The owners say the line, which would tie in to another high-voltage project now being built between Hampton, Minn., and Holmen, would improve system reliability, deliver cheaper power for Wisconsin consumers and provide a pipeline for wind energy from Minnesota and Iowa to population centers to the east.
Wisconsin ratepayers would pay about 15 percent of the $540 million to $580 million price tag. The PSC estimates the project would save Wisconsin customers between $195 million and $350 million over the line’s 40-year lifespan.
Peter Lanzalotta, a system planning consultant hired by two citizen groups opposing the project, challenges the applicants’ analysis, saying they did not consider a low or zero-growth scenario, which he argues is more realistic based on recent history. Under those scenarios, he says, the benefits of a high-voltage line would be minimal.
Another engineer employed by the Citizens Energy Task Force and SOUL, William Powers, argues that load management – by which utilities offer customers a discount in exchange for cutting their power at peak load times – is a more cost-effective tool than high-voltage transmission.
Powers also says the applicants overstate the economic benefits of wind power and the role of transmission in restricting its development and that solar energy is better suited to meet peak summer demand.
But Michael Goggin, director of research for the American Wind Energy Association, argues the project will give Wisconsin residents access to low-cost wind energy that will displace fossil-fuel sources, reducing harmful air pollution and water use in the state.
Goggin is testifying on behalf of Wind on the Wires, Fresh Energy and the Izaak Walton League of America. All support the Badger-Coulee project.
Other testimony filed Friday addresses the line’s impact on sensitive environmental resources, Amish communities near Cashton and state highways.
Onalaska city officials also filed testimony arguing against “Segment O,” which would follow a path along Hwy. 53 to the I-90 corridor on the grounds that it conflicts with the city’s comprehensive plan and future developments, including “high rise medical facilities” on a 187-acre tract that Mayo Clinic purchased last year along Sand Lake Road.
An alternative route would run north through Holmen to Black River Falls before following the I-94 corridor.
Earlier this month, the PSC quietly published its final environmental impact statement, and opponents remain skeptical that it adequately addresses concerns or meets requirements of state law.
CETF, an intervenor in the Badger-Coulee case, outlined numerous perceived shortfalls in the draft EIS, saying it failed to address the project’s effects on health, the environment and local economies.
The group also takes issue with what it sees as fundamental deficiencies:
• The applicants did not meet Wisconsin’s statutory requirements for determining need.
• Alternatives – such as conservation, efficiency and locally based renewable generation – were not given fair consideration.
• The cost-benefit analysis does not address the full negative impact of the power lines nor the positive economic boost from locally based alternatives.
The PSC received more than 200 comments from citizens on the draft EIS; all but three opposed the project. In addition, more than 1,400 Onalaska property owners submitted form letters opposing the southern route through that city.
Written comments on the project will be accepted through Jan. 5.
Public hearings in December; PSC has yet to deny a project
Wisconsin residents will have a chance to voice their opinions at hearings scheduled between Dec. 8 and 15. Commissioners will meet Jan. 6 to hear technical comments, and a final decision is expected in April.
The PSC can approve, deny or modify a proposal.
But to the knowledge of current staff, the PSC has never denied a transmission project, though spokesman Nathan Conrad points out that utilities typically tailor their proposals to meet the PSC’s expectations.
Since 1999, the three-person board has approved nearly 450 miles of new transmission lines with a combined value of more than $1.2 billion.
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