WED AM News: WEDC ‘will always disagree’ with LAB on loan revocations, Hogan says; PSC gives preliminary OK for transmission line project

— WEDC Secretary and CEO Mark Hogan says the agency “will always disagree” with the Legislative Audit Bureau on how the state should manage loan revocations when companies don’t follow through. 

“Our guidelines are clear; there’s just a difference in interpretation as to how they should be handled,” Hogan said yesterday before the Joint Legislative Audit Committee, which heard from WEDC and LAB staff on the most recent audit of the economic development agency. This was Hogan’s last appearance before the audit committee, as he’s leaving his post this fall. 

WEDC has not made any performance-based loans since 2017, Hogan said. But the agency still has 13 loans on the books for about $11 million, and Hogan expects those will be paid off in the next five years or so. 

In his remarks, Hogan explained that under WEDC’s interpretation of statute, if a company got a $1 million WEDC loan and had to create 100 jobs to have it forgiven, the company could still have a percentage of the loan forgiven based on how many jobs were created. For example, if the company created 75 jobs, Hogan says WEDC would forgive 75 percent of the loan, or $750,000. 

“The Legislative Audit Bureau’s position would be, you did not create the 100 jobs, so you should get zero — it should be all or nothing,” Hogan said. “We will always disagree on that.” 

He also identified another point of disagreement with LAB, related to requirements for creating and retaining jobs. If the company has created jobs but failed to maintain the required number for a period of time specified in a contract, WEDC would still say the company complied if it managed to reach the required number by the end of the contract. 

By contrast, LAB’s stance is that the company must reach the required number of jobs and maintain that level throughout the course of the contract in order to fulfill the requirements. 

Joe Chrisman, state auditor for LAB, highlighted some of the audit’s recommendations aimed at assessing “actual program results and outcomes.” 

“I think the question for all of you as policymakers should be: of our many economic development tools, which ones are producing outcomes and results that would warrant some additional funding or a change in funding?” he said. 

See more: 

— All three PSC commissioners have given preliminary OK for a high-voltage transmission line from near Dubuque to Middleton for wind-generated electricity. 

A coalition of clean energy advocates — including the Clean Grid Alliance, RENEW Wisconsin, Fresh Energy, the Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy and the Center for Rural Affairs — touted the Cardinal-Hickory Creek line. The line is a joint venture by the American Transmission Company, ITC Transmission and Dairyland Power Cooperative. 

Supporters say the line is needed to bolster the state’s clean energy portfolio by using renewable capacity from western states with reliable wind power. Backers add that a number of clean energy projects are dependent on the line, the 17th and final so-called “multi-value transmission project” from the Midwestern grid authority Midcontinent Independent System Operator. 

But critics — ranging from the state’s utility customer advocacy group to wildlife conservation activists to a trio of GOP lawmakers — urged the PSC to reject the project. Those critics raised concerns over the impact the project would have on the Driftless Area in southwestern Wisconsin, the project’s renewable capacity and reliability, and the line’s price tag that exceeds $500 million. 

Dem state AGs from neighboring Illinois and Michigan also took the unusual step of filing briefs counseling the PSC to reject the project. They noted that circumstances “have changed considerably, requiring additional analysis to avoid expenditure of hundreds of millions of dollars for a line that may not be needed.” Costs of the line would be spread to multiple states in the MISO region including Wisconsin, Illinois and Michigan. 

All three commissioners said the vigorous debate — which Commissioner Ellen Nowak said was the “most participation we’ve ever seen from an intervenor level and from the public’s level” — influenced their decision-making process. Still, all three said in their opening statements at yesterday’s hearing that they planned to support the line. 

“It was not easy and I went back and forth, but for me, the risks of not building this line and being wrong are just too great,” PSC Chairperson Rebecca Cameron Valcq said. “I’m voting for the project to ensure energy reliability in our region and access to lower-cost clean energy can be achieved.” 

Valcq pledged to address siting and routing concerns in order to “ensure environmental and landowner interests are protected.” 

But those promises did not address the concerns of Tom Content, executive director of the Citizens Utility Board of Wisconsin. Content noted the “dramatic reduction in price of both solar energy and battery storage” and said “time has passed this project by.” 

“In this project, our expert took a look at it and she said they didn’t even do modeling that showed extensive gains in terms of new renewable energy projects that would result from this line,” he told 

The decision by the commissioners is a “preliminary determination.” The final written order will be based on yesterday’s discussion and returned to commissioners for a final review and approval. 

Content said the only recourse for opponents at this point is to go to court but said his organization was not prepared to comment on legal action. 

See Cardinal-Hickory Creek project information:

See the AGs letter:

— Cellectar Biosciences, a clinical stage biopharmaceutical company with operations in Middleton and New Jersey, is making “considerable progress” in developing its cancer therapy, according to the company’s latest financial report. 

Jim Caruso, the company’s CEO, says the therapy “continues to advance, delivering encouraging preliminary data with improving efficacy and a clear dose response in our ongoing Phase 1 study.” 

In the second quarter of this year, Cellectar received “fast track” designation from the FDA for its cancer therapy drug, potentially shortening the path to market. The company is exploring the therapy’s use for multiple types of cancer. The ongoing Phase 1 clinical trial is yielding promising results, and a Phase 2 clinical trial was recently expanded, with results expected later this year. 

As of the end of June, the company had about $16.8 million in cash and cash equivalents, up from $13.3 million at the end of December 2018. According to a release, that should cover the company’s basic budgeted operations through the end of 2020. 

Research and development costs at the end of Q2 were $1.8 million, compared to $1.7 million for the same period in 2018. Most of the R&D costs for 2019 went toward starting and maintaining a pediatric clinical study, covering project costs and manufacturing expenses. 

Cellectar also recently announced a new hire: Dov Elefant, who will take over as chief financial officer Sept. 10. He’s got more than 20 years of industry experience in finance and executive roles, having most recently worked for Akari Therapeutics, where he helped raise more than $100 million for the European company. 

See more on the company’s Q2 financial results: 

See more on Elefant: 

— The Senate Agriculture, Revenue and Financial Institutions Committee has unanimously signed off on a bipartisan bill that would encourage the growth of the state’s fledgling hemp industry. 

SB 188, which would bring Wisconsin’s laws in line with newly passed federal regulations, received enthusiastic support at its public hearing in May. Backers said the legislation gives the state control of its hemp program at a time when Wisconsin is poised to expand the crop. 

The proposal faced pushback from law enforcement, who worried that a provision in the bill would allow drivers to operate their vehicles with THC — the psychoactive component in marijuana, hemp’s cousin crop — in their blood. 

But an amendment lawmakers signed off on yesterday moved the four lobbying groups that represent law enforcement officers from their initial position against the bill to neutral. Both the Badger State Sheriffs’ Association and Wisconsin Sheriffs and Deputy Sheriffs Association noted that the amendment addressed their concerns with the bill. 

See the bill:

See the amendment:

See Wisconsin Ethics Commission lobbying information:

— The state Department of Transportation has received an America’s Transportation Award for two projects: the Grand Avenue bridge replacement project over Half Moon Lake in Eau Claire, and the Milwaukee Zoo Interchange. 

According to a release, Eau Claire hired a company called Ayres Associates to replace the former bridge. The project, finished in 2017, included a new arched facade, lighting, bike lanes and fishing spots for anglers. 

The Eau Claire project was recognized as one of eight transportation projects in six states to win the Mid-America Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials regional competition. The Milwaukee project won an award in different category. 

The three highest-scoring projects from each of four regional competitions will make the “Top 12,” which will compete for a grand prize and a People’s Choice Award. The top two winners will each get $10,000 donated to a charity or scholarship chosen by the state DOT. 

The Top 12 will be announced this week, marking the beginning of online voting for the People’s Choice Award. The final two winners will be announced Oct. 7 at the annual meeting of AASHTO. 

See more: 

— The Department of Workforce Development has hired John Keckhaver as its new legislative liaison. 

According to the agency, Keckhaver has nearly 20 years’ experience in state government, law and government relations. He most recently served as a policy and employee engagement analyst with DWD. 

He replaces Bridget Esser, who is now working for state Sen. Mark Miller, D-Monona. 


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– Advocate Aurora to expand cancer research with $10.2 million grant


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– Kohl’s sells Menomonee Falls office to Milwaukee Tool for ongoing expansion


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– Bouldering instead of beer, Adventure Rock plans new Walker’s Point gym

– Adventure Rock to open third climbing gym in Walker’s Point


– Utilities weigh changes as they seek to meet carbon reduction goals

– Public Service Commission approves Cardinal-Hickory Creek transmission line

– Regulators OK southwestern Wisconsin power line


– Margaret Krome: Scheme to move USDA agencies another blow to climate research


<i>See these and other press releases: </i>

Clean Grid Alliance: Applauds WI PSC decision to support Cardinal-Hickory Creek Transmission Line

Trek Travel: Expands to new destinations in 2020

Bradley Corp.: Announces new hire and promotion in sales organization

Sheboygan County Economic Development Corp.: Over 50 employers expected for Lakeshore Military-Focused Job Fair