Work is expected to begin early next year on a second high-voltage power line slated to run through northern La Crosse County, but it could be a while before local residents see any signs of activity.
American Transmission Co. notified Wisconsin regulators last week that it is seeking to start construction of the Badger-Coulee line as soon as possible to avoid potential conflicts with threatened and endangered species.
ATC said it expects to begin clearing vegetation in January for the roughly 180-mile transmission line, which will connect Holmen and the Madison area.
The primary concern is the northern long-eared bat, a threatened species native to southwestern Wisconsin that roosts in trees between April and September, said Andrew Horton, a biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Horton said there could also be conflicts with the eastern massasauga rattlesnake, a state endangered species.
A joint venture of ATC, Xcel Energy, La Crosse-based Dairyland Power Cooperative and two other utilities, the 345-kilovolt line will originate at a new substation on Briggs Road in Holmen that was completed this fall as part of CapX2020, another high-voltage transmission project running across Minnesota and western Wisconsin.
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 contended the line will allow utilities to profit by trading energy while discouraging more cost-effective local alternatives such as energy efficiency and solar power.
The three governor-appointed commissioners who form the Public Service Commission approved Badger-Coulee in April at an estimated cost of $580 million, to be passed on to ratepayers throughout the Midwest. It will connect to CapX2020, a project connecting western Minnesota and the Dakotas to Rochester and La Crosse.
The Wisconsin portion of CapX was completed in September with an approved price tag of $211 million.
ATC is conducting a biological assessment, the first step in receiving a Fish and Wildlife permit. The project is also awaiting permits from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.
The project also faces a court challenge from the Town of Holland, which claims the line will not save ratepayers money and that the PSC erred in approving a second line through the town, rather than putting the wires on the same poles as CapX2020.
A La Crosse County judge has yet to rule on whether the case can proceed.
An attorney for the town said the town would not seek to put the project on hold while the case is pending because state law requires a bond of equal value to the project.
The company is conducting field surveying in the segment between Holmen and Blair.
ATC said it has also begun obtaining right-of-way on Dane County segments and is generally working from south to north.
Negotiations with landowners between Tomah and Black River Falls are expected to begin in the spring, said ATC spokeswoman Kaya Freiman. Acquisitions between Black River Falls and Holmen may not begin until the fall of 2016.
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