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Final OK granted for $580 million transmission line, appeal expected

Wisconsin energy regulators gave final approval Thursday to a $580 million power line that will extend 180 miles from Madison to La Crosse.

That approval by the state Public Service Commission is expected to be challenged in court by opponents of the project, such as the Clean Energy Task Force or Save Our Unique Lands of Wisconsin.

The PSC had given an initial go-ahead to the project last month, saying the 345,000-volt line was needed and would deliver long-term savings for utility customers in the state and improve the ability to import wind energy from Iowa and Minnesota.

The three commissioners selected a route that runs along Interstates 90-94 for part of the project and avoids crossing through the state’s largest Amish settlement, in Cashton.

Even though litigation is expected, the utilities said Thursday they expect to start negotiations with property owners along the route as soon as next month.

Opponents of the project urged that energy dollars flow into locally-sited power sources and energy efficiency, and noted that the PSC was flooded with public input challenging the line.

“The comissioners ignored a record number of more than 1700 electric customer comments – 99% opposing the new line with 45% from communities nowhere near the proposed line,” said SOUL of Wisconsin.

The project is being developed jointly by American Transmission Co. and Xcel Energy Inc.. Pewaukee-based ATC had initially proposed the line but was ordered by federal energy regulators to split its ownership with Xcel, which is based in Minneapolis and operates a utility in Eau Claire.

Construction of the project would start in 2016 and be completed in 2018, under the utilities’ current timetable.

Because it was included on a list of 17 high-priority transmission projects in the Midwest, the project will be paid for by customers across the region. That list was developed by the regional grid operator, based in Indiana.

Wisconsin ratepayers’ share of the project cost will be approximately $87 million. If all 17 projects are built across the Midwest, the total pricetag would be $5.2 billion, with Wisconsin ratepayers responsible for $780 million.