Tuesday Trends sample: Electric infrastructure rising, biofuels mixed and tobacco rules falling

Below is an excerpt from the most recent edition of WisBusiness Tuesday Trends. The full version of this weekly look at the state of Wisconsin business is now available for free to anyone who signs up for the Tuesday Trends mailing list. The full product includes several items in each of the rising, mixed and falling categories plus a look at upcoming business events across the state.

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RISING

Electric infrastructure: A pair of power line announcements provides a jolt to state utilities over the last week. American Transmission Company announces plans to spend unprecedented billions to upgrade or construct transmission systems in Wisconsin and Upper Michigan — along with smaller projects in Minnesota and Illinois — by 2020. The proposals, which would account for between $3.8 billion and $4.4 billion, would improve electricity coverage and reliability, according to the Pewaukee company in its annual assessment report. First on ATC’s agenda is a six-mile power line from Pleasant Prairie across the state line into Illinois, while other proposals include lines linking Madison and La Crosse, Madison and Dubuque, Iowa, and Sheboygan, Manitowoc and Calumet counties. In addition, the Obama administration singles out the CapX2020 project linking western Wisconsin and Minnesota as one of seven projects on the fast track nationwide. The proposal, involving three state-based utilities and currently under review by state regulators, would create as many as 1,650 jobs, according to the White House’s Council on Environmental Quality.

MIXED

Biofuels: The head of one of the state’s most prominent biofuels start-ups says his company isn’t going anywhere. But Lee Edwards, CEO of Madison’s Virent Energy Systems, tells the 2011 Wisconsin Bioenergy Summit that the state needs to commit to the industry on a larger scale to keep up with other states. Virent, which partners with mega-companies like Shell and Cargill, uses biomass — developed from plants such as corn and soybeans — to create consumer and aviation fuels that can be dropped into the existing petroleum delivery system. Edwards says Wisconsin has been great for developing that technology, but that decisions need to be made about the state’s willingness to provide a home for commercial-scale biofuels plants. Edwards says the industry carries enormous risks — in part of because of its reliance on crops — but notes that other states are beginning to see its long-term economic advantages. He cited Mississippi and Michigan as particular examples of states supporting alternative energy in the auto industry.

FALLING

Tobacco rules: Just two weeks after the Department of Revenue issued a ruling that retailers who utilize roll-your-own cigarette machines must obtain permits as both a manufacturer and distributor of cigarettes and pay applicable taxes, a Dane County judge halts enforcement of that standard. A tobacco store in Rib Mountain sued seeking a temporary injunction of the ruling, arguing that customers rolling their own cigarettes do not violate state law, and Judge Juan Colas granted the injunction late Friday. The Revenue Department says it’s disappointed but remains dedicated to fairly enforcing tobacco laws, and before the ruling, Gov. Scott Walker defended the interpretation as keeping laws consistent for all businesses throughout the state. The parties in the lawsuit will return to court next month.