March 27, 2015

Northern Badger Coulee transmission line wins PSC approval

Judy Newman | Wisconsin State Journal |

The Badger Coulee high-voltage transmission line will be built, and it will follow a route from a substation near Holmen to the Madison area, the Wisconsin Public Service Commission decided in a unanimous, preliminary vote Thursday.

The 345-kilovolt line will keep the electricity supply reliable and sufficient, and will bring economic benefits to the region, agreed the three-member panel, all appointees of Gov. Scott Walker.

The 180-mile project, proposed by American Transmission Co. and Xcel Energy, will cost an estimated $580 million, but the expense will be spread across an area that includes parts of 15 states and the Canadian province of Manitoba – the region whose electricity flow is handled by MISO, the Midcontinent Independent System Operator, in Carmel, Indiana.

PSC chairwoman Ellen Nowak said Wisconsin residents will bear about 15 percent of the cost.

More than 90 percent of the high-power line will follow current utility and highway corridors, ATC said. That means it will avoid the Cashton area in Monroe County that houses “the largest Old Order Amish community in Wisconsin,” according to PSC staff. That vicinity was part of a more rural but shorter alternative route that the PSC rejected.

In Dane County, the transmission line will connect at the North Madison substation in the town of Vienna, turn west and then south, along Bronner Road, to the Cardinal substation in the town of Middleton.

Newly appointed commissioner Mike Huebsch, former 94th Assembly District representative and, most recently, secretary of the state Department of Administration, said the Badger Coulee line will help bring in renewable energy and will provide needed power in the region.

“The congestion and reliability needs of western Wisconsin are clear,” Huebsch said. “Badger Coulee will do a tremendous job of clearing up those concerns.”

Nowak cited PSC staff studies projecting $118 million to $700 million in economic benefits over the estimated 40-year life of the transmission line, resulting from a reliable, adequate electricity supply that would support economic growth. “From an economic perspective, this project makes sense,” Nowak said.

Supporters and opponents were quick to respond to the commission’s vote.

Wind on the Wires, a St. Paul, Minn., nonprofit group representing wind developers, environmental groups and tribal officials, praised the PSC’s action.

“Construction of the line is critical for the development and delivery of several thousand megawatts of clean, low-cost wind power,” the group said. “A number of clean energy advocacy organizations have worked on this new transmission line over the years, and we are extremely pleased at the outcome of this proceeding.”

But opponent group, Citizens Energy Task Force, said it is “appalled, but not surprised” by the decision.

The citizen group said there was not enough study of alternatives to building another huge power line.

CORE, the Coalition Organized for Reliable Energy, cheered the ruling. “The Badger Coulee transmission line means two things for Wisconsin: more family-supporting jobs and a stronger electric grid,” said Dave Poklinkoski, president of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 2304, in Madison.

The PSC is expected to issue a final order on the project within four weeks, and Wisconsin-based ATC and Minnesota-based Xcel said they will start contacting property owners on the chosen route yet this year.

Construction is expected to begin in 2016 and the line is scheduled to go into service in 2018.

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