• WisBusiness

Thursday, October 13, 2011

GreenBiz: Proposed transmission lines raising questions across the state

By Gregg Hoffmann
Groups raising questions about proposed power lines by American Transmission Company now extend across the state.

From the Kickapoo Valley in the west to Wauwatosa in the Milwaukee area, people are questioning the routes and plans for ATC lines designed to connect wind power and other alternative energy sources west of the Mississippi River with more populated areas in eastern Wisconsin and eventually the Chicago area.

SOUL of the Kickapoo Valley has worked with municipalities in western Wisconsin in raising questions about the “Badger Coulee” line that would run from La Crosse to Madison. ATC has held two rounds of meetings on that 150-mile, 345-kilovolt line and has not yet decided on final routes for it.

The company says the Badger Coulee line would help Wisconsin and the Midwest region by "improving electric system reliability, delivering economic benefits for Wisconsin utilities and electric consumers and expanding infrastructure to support greater use of renewable energy.”

The town of Stark in Vernon County has formed a special committee to work on questioning the Badger Coulee line and looking at alternatives to it. The committee and SOUL, which stands for Save Our Unique Lands, are working with groups that support distance transmission of wind-generated power.

Committee members and others are concerned about the carbon footprint and costs of the Badger Coulee line and are looking at efficiencies and environmental benefits of so-called “startup bundles” of lines for the Midwest.

In recent weeks, the Dellona Town Board in Sauk County joined a growing list of small municipalities raising questions about the Badger Coulee line. Those questions are about environmental concerns, costs, loss of land by private land owners and municipalities, reduced property values and other issues.

“After reviewing the route proposed, the scale of the proposed towers, the unavoidable environmental and economic impacts during the actual construction, and the potential for both temporary and long term environmental and economic damages after construction is completed, the Town Board voted unanimously to vigorously oppose the proposed construction and recommend the transmission line use either an existing easement or follow the I-90-94 corridors for future construction,” Chairman Paul Bremer wrote in a letter to ATC.

ATC hopes the $425 million project could go to the Public Service Commission in 2013 with a PSC decision in 2014. Construction then could start in 2016 with service starting in 2018.

The Badger Coulee line is not the only ATC-proposed line that is raising concerns among citizens’ groups. Nearly 100 interested people recently attended a meeting called by Milwaukee Ald. Michael Murphy to address the ATC proposal to build 138,000-volt power lines though a small neighborhood in Milwaukee and Wauwatosa.

“While we all understand and respect the need for more power, we find it disconcerting that the ATC has proposed burying the high-powered transmission lines underground just blocks away along 92nd street, yet would put them up on 95th street above the heads of parishioners at St. Therese Church, the 420 school children and 90 teachers at Milwaukee Montessori School, the 200 residents of a nearby apartment complex, other neighboring homes, and all of those who currently enjoy Cannon Park,” wrote the Montessori School's Monica Von Aken in a piece posted at the BizTimes Milwaukee website.

Von Aken and others say all lines should be buried in the area. Representatives of the Milwaukee Regional Medical Center and the UWM Foundation, which have investments in the area, have raised questions about overhead lines.

The disputed line is part of the Western Milwaukee County Electric Reliability Project, which would include construction of a new We Energies substation and two 138 KV transmission lines.

“The Highway 45 corridor in western Milwaukee County is a growing metropolitan business hub,” ATC writes on its web site. “According to We Energies’ planning studies, electric demand in this region is projected to double as soon as 2016, beyond the capacity of the existing distribution substations and feeders that serve the area. Key drivers include commercial growth along Watertown Plank Road and increased electric usage by businesses and homes.

“In addition, the critical nature of the two Level 1 trauma centers located within the Milwaukee Regional Medical Complex calls for a higher level of electric service reliability, one that includes a redundant source for electricity in the event that one of the two lines experiences an outage. Two separate and distinct lines are being proposed to serve the new We Energies substation.”

ATC hopes for submission of a plan for the Milwaukee project to the PSC in 2012 with approval in 2013. Construction would start in 2014.

In both the Badger Coulee project and the Milwaukee area project, ATC has maintained that for some projects above-ground lines are more cost-effective and more efficient in transmitting electricity.

The company also has emphasized seeking public input through community meetings and through writing in both projects.

ATC was founded in 2001, as the first multi-state, transmission-only utility in the United States. According to the company web site, “Its transmission system allows energy producers to transport electric power from where it's generated to where it's needed. It's similar to the interstate highway system with high-voltage electricity traveling on the transmission system wires like vehicles on the highway.”

-- Hoffmann has written many columns and features for WisPolitics.com and WisBusiness.com over the years. He will write the GreenBiz column monthly.


Comments: 2

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