WisBusiness: Dane County Reacts to Transmission Line Options

By Brian E. Clark

MADISON – The American Transmission Co. unveiled three possible route options for a 345-kilovolt electric power line across Dane County Tuesday morning – including one that would follow Madison’s Beltline.

That option quickly drew fire from Madison Mayor Dave Cieslewicz, who said he would fight it before the state’s Public Service Commission – which has final say on where the power line is sited.

Work on the project, which is expected to cost between $131 million and $163 million, is slated to begin in 2009 and finish two years later. Depending on the route, it would run between 35 and 55 miles from Rockdale in eastern Dane County to a substation in West Middleton.

This is ATC’s first effort to build a major high-voltage transmission line in a heavily populated part of the state.

Cieslewicz said the Beltline path would harm several Madison neighborhoods. He said he favors the two routes that would run south of Madison.

One parallels existing transmion lines through the towns of Pleasant Springs and Dunn and the City of Fitchburg, while the other uses mostly rural areas following County Highway A.

Both of those routes would then run north through the towns of Verona Springdale and Cross Plains. Representatives of those towns, the county, affected cities, developers and environmental groups all attended the meeting, which kicked off six weeks of public meetings over the route options.

James Danky, of Preserve Our Rural Landscape, said his group favors the Beltline proposal because it would have the least impact on county farmlands and would be less expensive.

Lynn Wiskowski, who represents the Junction Ridge Neighborhood on Madison’s far west side, said she needed to study the proposed lines.

“This is the first I’ve seen it,” she said. “But our neighborhood bumps up against the Beltline, so it could affect us. We’ll have to look at it closely, but we appreciate how open ATC is being about the planning process.”

Backers say the line is needed to reinforce an aging transmission system and meet growing electrical use in Dane County, which ATC officials said imports 70 percent of its power. That figure will increase, they say, as the county’s population grows.

In addition, MG&E’s Blount Street Plant will stop burning coal within to generate electricity by 2012. The move will slash emissions from the 100-year-old plant, which is located on the Isthmus ad is the county’s top single-source polluter.

A collection of groups, including several environmental and consumer organizations, released a report last year that looked at ATC data and agreed new power lines are needed to deal with the area’s rapid growth.

Because the report was funded by ATC, it is viewed with skepticism by some county residents. And last week, the Dane County Board voted unanimously to ask for an independent study to determine if the line is needed.

Charles Gonzales, who run the meeting for ATC, said he believes the Beltline route will be one of the two final paths presented to the PSC this fall.

“But at this point, we honestly do not have a preferred route,” he said. “We are still putting things together and making decisions.”

Gonzales said ATC produced the three possible routes, with possible variations, after winnowing down dozens of possible corridors. None of the finalists would run along recreational trails, he said.

Mark Williamson, vice president of major projects, said “these decisions are complex, but they reflect our best effort to balance public input with land use, constructability, environmental and other considerations.”

ATC officials said they initially identified a broad study area, which was presented to the public last summer.

Preliminary corridors following existing utility and road corridors, recreational trails and new cross-country routes were identified and presented at open houses last fall.

Those corridors were then narrowed and refined to the three remaining options.

“At every step, we’ve gone to the public with updated engineering and environmental maps so that people could weigh in on the plans and give their feedback,” Williamson said.