WisBusiness: ATC official says study will show burying powerline too expensive, inefficient

By Brian E. Clark

A top American Transmission Company official said Thursday he’s convinced a study now underway will show that burying a 345-kilovolt transmissionline along the capital city’s Beltline is less efficient and much more
costly than running it above ground.

Mark Williamson, ATC vice president of major projects, said an underground line has a smaller power-carrying capacity and would cost between $1 billionand $1.5 billion, depending on how much is buried. The price for the
above-ground route would be about $200 million, he said.

“That’s a dramatic investment for something that won’t work as well,” said Williamson, who spoke at a WisPolitics.com luncheon at the Madison Club.

He was joined by Charlie Higley, executive director of the Citizens UtilityBoard. Higley, whose group intially gave a green light to the Dane Co. powerline project, said he still agreed with the overall goal of replacing old infrastructure but suggested the 2013 project completion deadline should go longer because of lower projections on power consumption growth.

“We can delay the need several years perhaps, but the Dane County transmission system is not strong enough with even a modest level of growth,” said Higley, who made a disclaimer that a powerline study done by CUB was funded by ATC.

A total of three paths are under review for the route, which will run fromRockdale to west of Middleton. ATC earlier said it would recommend two paths – one of which is certain to be along the Beltline – to the state Public Service Commission in June. The new study, however, will delay that recommendation until October.

During the luncheon, Higley repeatedly stressed the importance of conservation and the need to use energy more efficiently. Doing so would reduce the need for new power plants – such as a coal-fired plant posed by Alliant in Cassville – and lessen the impact of climate change.

He also called Wisconsin’s investment of about $100 million a year in conservation programs “inadequate” compared to the billion-dollars-plus that is being spent on new coal-fired power plants and and transmission lines.

Williamson agreed that that there is “scientific consensus” that supports the validity of global warming, though he said he is uncertain how much iscaused by human activity.

Regardless, he said, the “world needs to get together on this issue and take prudent measures within reason to find the right balance. But we (the United States) can’t solve it by ourselves.”

Williamson, who has traveled abroad to study energy programs and use, said Europeans are “two generations ahead” of the United States in using energy efficiently.

“The challenge for our society is to deal with growth and energy use because people will not stand for blackouts.”

Williamson also noted that France gets much of its power from nuclear plants and said he believed – speaking as an individual – that nuclear power should be part of the solution to both American energy needs and global warming.

Higley, however, said nuclear power is too costly and argued that no country – including France – has figured out how to safe store nuclear waste.