WisBusiness: Western Wisconsin sees some opposition to potential power line

By Gregg Hoffmann

For WisBusiness.com

American Transmission Co. has not announced its proposed route for the Badger Coulee Project, a 150-mile, 345 kilowatt transmission line that would run through western Wisconsin, but some grassroots opposition to having the lines run through the Kickapoo Valley area already has organized.

Badgers Against Transmission Lines (BATL), sponsored by an organization called SOUL of the Kickapoo, scheduled recent workshops on the proposed line and on how to write and send communications that oppose it.

The Valley Stewardship Network, an activist organization in the area, also is urging citizens to learn more about the Badger Coulee Project and raise questions. Town of Stark officials have commissioned a committee to study and report on the project.

One of the rumored routes for the line would include the Vernon County area, and some citizens are specifically concerned that the line could run through the Kickapoo Valley Reserve recreation area. ATC officials maintain specific routes have not yet been determined.

Local citizens are concerned about the possible environmental impact of the line, cost of the project and about its impact on property values.

“Residents and officials of Vernon County are justifiably concerned about the negative economic and ecological impacts of the proposed high voltage power line,” reads a letter that has been circulated by the Valley Stewardship Network. “We advocate for reducing energy usage through energy efficiency measures. We do not support an expensive project to accommodate wasteful energy usage practices. On average, we waste 30 percent of our energy on the U.S. The utility companies ought to invest in energy efficiency programs rather than in massive power lines, a shift that would create local jobs and truly benefit local rate payers. We issue a resounding ‘no thanks’ to the proposed Badger Coulee Transmission Line.”

Some opponents fear local citizens’ concerns are more likely to be ignored because of Gov. Scott Walker’s pro-business stance, and what they consider an “anti-environment” leaning of his administration.

ATC held informational sessions in Onalaska in La Crosse County and in Westby in Vernon County, as well as other communities, last year.

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

ATC’s schedule calls for the unveiling of proposed routes perhaps this summer and no later than 2012. The company would then have to apply to the Public Service Commission.

The company bills the project as having “multi-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 could offset much of that need.

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.

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. Anticipated construction would start in 2016.