WisBusiness: ATC starts public meetings on proposed $425 million line in western Wisconsin

By Gregg Hoffmann

For WisBusiness.com

American Transmission Co. has started a series of public informational meetings on the Badger Coulee Project, a 150-mile, 345 kilowatt transmission line that would run through western Wisconsin.

ATC held sessions in Onalaska in La Crosse County on Monday and in Westby in Vernon County on Tuesday. A list of upcoming sessions can be found at the end of this story.

“We are very early in the process at this point,” said Sarah Justus, who is handling the public outreach for the project. “We are encouraging the public to become involved in the process. We want to get input from the people who live in the area.”

A group of business, labor and renewable energy organizations this week released a letter in support of the evaluation process.

“The multiple benefits of ATC’s proposed transmission line in western Wisconsin – reliability, economics and renewables – make good business sense,” said Phil Prange, president and chief executive officer of the Wisconsin Business Council. “Any time you are presented with a solution that addresses multiple issues, you’ve got to pay attention. I encourage the business community to pay attention and get involved in the development of this project over the next several years.”

ATC bills the project as having multiple benefits. “It will improve reliability of service and upgrade access to electricity,” Justus said. ATC says western Wisconsin needs about $140 million in lower voltage updates, and this new line, with an estimated cost of $425 million, could offset much of that need in addition to providing other benefits.

The line also could provide utilities in the region with greater access to the wholesale electricity market, with potential savings that could be passed on to consumers, according to ATC.

ATC also emphasizes that the region could be connected to high-quality renewable energy sources from what is referred to as the “nation’s wind alley” in western Minnesota and the Dakotas.

“We need to move that energy into the area that needs it,” said Justus, who said that the Badger Coulee line would connect with the CapX2020 line that is being developed in Minnesota. On the south, the Badger Coulee line would connect with infrastructure in the Madison area.

The Badger Coulee line would also match regional studies — primarily the Midwest Area Transmission Study and Midwest ISO Regional Generation Outlet Study — which evaluate transmission options that best deliver renewable energy while also addressing reliability issues.

Of course, any new transmission lines always raise concerns — ranging from costs to loss of power along long lines to environmental concerns. For example, the CapX2020 line, which would connect with the Badger Coulee line, has faced opposition from some environmentalists, from people concerned that the lines will affect their health and from property owners who do not want to give easements.

In a separate e-mail, William Katra of the Clean Energy Coalition of Western Wisconsin raised some concerns about the possible upgrades in the CapX and Badger Coulee projects to 345 KV lines.

“Whether the CapX or ATC projects involve upgrades (replacing old towers and lines with new) or new corridors, we are talking about new 345 KV lines. Read this as 345,000 volts,” said Katra, adding that poles for the new lines could run between 120 and 170 feet. He said the towers for the new lines will be an “imposing height.”

Katra acknowledged that the corridors for the new lines are far from being determined, but said, “At this point, we can only speculate as to where the new, imposing power line eventually will be built,” Katra said. “Following established procedures, the ATC is mandates to propose two options and the PSC will choose one. This means that in two years when ATC has another series of public sessions, many new individuals will be energized to become informed, especially if they learn that one of the proposed corridors will run near or over their own land.”

Justus said ATC is trying to keep costs in line through a variety of techniques and is proposing a 345 kilowatt transmission line so power loss is minimized.

As for environmental concerns, Wisconsin law requires location of new power lines with existing facilities and infrastructure where it is feasible. That includes existing utility corridors as primary opportunities, transportation corridors as secondary opportunities and tertiary opportunities such as recreational trails.

New corridors also can be established using section lines and/or property boundaries when feasible, but often those cost more and raise environmental issues.

The goal is to get the Badger Coulee line in service by 2018. The proposed schedule is to hold the current public open houses in the study area, followed by similar sessions on potential corridors in summer of 2011.

Open houses would again be held on preliminary routes in spring of 2012 and proposed routes in Fall of 2012.

ATC hopes to file an application with the Public Service Commission in 2013, with an anticipated PSC decision in 2014. The line also would have to get approved by the Department of Natural Resources.
Anticipated construction would start in 2016, with transmission starting in 2018, according to the ATC schedule.

ATC is a transmission-only utility that owns, operates builds and maintains transmission facilities in portions of Wisconsin, Upper Michigan, Minnesota and Illinois. It was formed in 2001 as the nation’s first multi-state transmission-only utility. ATC has grown to a $2.75 billion company with 9,400 miles of transmission lines and 510 substations.

Upcoming open houses are:

* Sept. 30, Sauk Prairie Community Center, Sauk City

* Oct. 4, Hillsboro Fireman’s Community Center, Hillsboro

* Oct. 5, Cranberry Country Lodge, Tomah

* Oct. 6, Madison Marriott West Convention Center, Middleton

* Oct. 7, Grace Bible Church, Portage

Open houses run from 1-7 p.m. For more information on the, and the project in general, go to www.BadgerCoulee.com.

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