Monday was the final day to submit public comments on a proposed high-voltage power line that would cut through the Coulee Region to deliver energy to the east.
Wisconsin utility regulators were scheduled to begin technical hearings Tuesday this week in Madison as they assess the need and impact of the Badger-Coulee project, the second such major transmission line proposed for western Wisconsin since 2011.
A $211 million segment of a project known as CapX2020 is now under construction between Alma and Holmen.
The Wisconsin Public Service Commission, which has never turned down a transmission project application, will determine whether and where American Transmission Co. and Xcel Energy may build the line, which could encroach on as many as 556 residences, as well as farm, forest and public lands. It is expected to cost up to $580 million, with Wisconsin electric consumers picking up about 15 percent of the tab.
ATC and Xcel 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.
Opponents say the demand is not there, and the line would allow utilities to profit by trading energy while discouraging more cost-effective alternatives such as energy efficiency and solar power.
One of the proposed routes would go north through Holmen, doubling back on the CapX2020 line from a new Briggs Road substation, to Black River Falls and then follow the Interstate 94 corridor to Dane County.
Another would follow Highway 53 through Onalaska to Interstate 90 and cut south before turning east at Cashton, cutting through Onalaska’s prime commercial development corridor and the state’s largest Old Order Amish population.
The PSC held five public hearings in December, where the majority of those speaking opposed either the project in general or one of the proposed routes.
The commission so far has logged more than 525 public comments on the Badger-Coulee project. According to analysis by the opposition group Save Our Unique Lands, more than 90 percent are in opposition to the project.
In addition, the PSC on Friday received 846 letters from supporters of the Center for Biological Diversity urging commissioners to deny the project on the grounds that other alternatives could achieve the same goal with far less harm to the environment.
At this week’s technical hearings, commissioners were to hear from the applicants, the PSC’s professional staff and 25 registered intervenors, including the city of Onalaska, town of Holland and Dairyland Power Cooperative.
The commission is expected to issue a final decision in April.