With formal approval from Wisconsin regulators, the utilities behind a high-voltage power line plan to begin negotiations with landowners along the route between Holmen and Dane County.
The Public Service Commission approved the proposed Badger-Coulee transmission project Thursday, formalizing a decision the panel made in March to permit the line at an estimated cost of $580 million, which will be passed on to electric consumers across the Midwest.
A joint venture of Xcel Energy and American Transmission Company, the 345-kilovolt line will originate at a substation under construction near Briggs Road that is part of CapX2020, another high-voltage transmission project running across Minnesota and western Wisconsin. Crews are at work raising towers along the $211 million portion of that project between Alma and Holmen, with work expected to be completed this summer.
The approved Badger-Coulee route runs north from Holmen to Black River Falls and then along the I-94 corridor to the outskirts of Madison.
ATC and Xcel say the project will improve system reliability, deliver cheaper power and provide a pipeline for wind energy from Minnesota and Iowa to population centers to the east.
Opponents, who have vowed to appeal the PSC decision, say Wisconsin’s energy use is flat, and the line will allow utilities to profit by trading energy while discouraging more cost-effective local alternatives such as energy efficiency and solar power.
Construction of the new line is not expected to begin until 2016, but ATC said it will begin acquiring easements along the route next month, working from south to north. Landowners in Dane, Columbia and Sauk counties are expected to receive information about the process and their rights.
ATC did not provide a timeline for when it will contact landowners in La Crosse, Jackson and Monroe counties.
Altogether, there are 318 residences, including 169 homes, within 300 feet of the approved route, which cuts through 617.5 acres of farmland.
Nearly 90 percent of those residences are along the northern portion of the route, through La Crosse, Trempealeau, Jackson, Monroe and Juneau counties. Almost half are in the Holmen area.
Utilities, like governments, have the power of eminent domain, which means they have the legal right to take ownership or cross private property. Landowners must be compensated for their loss but do not have the power to refuse.
Unlike Minnesota, Wisconsin residents do not have a “buy the farm” option that allows them to get out from under a power line by forcing the utility to buy the entire property.
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