Cashton-area residents were in consensus last week that they don’t want American Transmission Company’s (ATC) 345-kilovolt Badger Coulee electrical line built in their area.
The question “is the line is necessary?” is to be decided by the Wisconsin Public Service Commission (PSC). However, as part of Badger Coulee proposal, ATC released maps for a “preferred route” and “alternative route” for the Badger Coulee line in early October.
ATC held an open house meeting at the Cashton Community Hall on Wednesday, Oct. 24. It was one of five open houses hosted by ATC and Xcel Energy, where attendees could discuss aspects of the Badger Coulee project with ATC and Xcel Energy staff.
Representatives from a variety of areas, including transmission planning, engineering, real estate, environmental and construction were on hand to discuss concerns of anyone interested in learning more about the Badger Coulee line.
The Badger Coulee line is a proposed $470-$500 million, 150- to 170-mile, 345-kilovolt line from north of the La Crosse area to northern Dane County.
ATC says the line is needed to provide electrical infrastructure dependability and allow for energy trading along the nation's electrical grid. A number of grassroots groups throughout Wisconsin are opposed to building the line, saying it's unnecessary considering our nation's growing trend of electric conservation and an already dependable and well-maintained electric infrastructure.
More than 80 municipalities have signed resolutions asking ATC and the PSC for alternatives to the Badger Coulee line.
The ATC preferred route follows I-90/I-94 from Madison to Black River Falls. It then travels west to Taylor and goes south into La Crosse County. The major portion of the preferred route would follow an existing line of smaller transmission lines with already established easements. This would effect fewer populated areas.
A downside to the preferred route is the estimated additional $30 million that would be needed to complete the 170-mile project.
The upside to the preferred route that ATC representatives at the open house agreed with, is that the preferred route would have less of an impact on individual property owners and the company would not have to cut a new path through some areas, where no lines currently exist and no easements have been established.
The alternative route concerns Cashton-area residents the most. It starts in La Crosse County, cuts through Monroe County, skirts around the village of Cashton and follows Hwy. 33 through Ontario before ending at Interstate 90 and heading south.
ATC representative Charlie Gonzales said the preferred route is the first choice of ATC, but ATC is required to provide two completely separate route options to the Public Service Commission (PSC) for review.
Anne Spaltholz, public relations representative for ATC, said ATC has reviewed more than a dozen route options since the study began in 2010 and has been narrowing them down ever since. She said ATC will file the final application for its preferred and alternative routes for construction of the Badger Coulee transmission line project to the PSC in 2013.
The PSC will in-turn review the applications and schedule public hearings on the proposed routes before making any decision on the final construction route. ATC hopes to have a decision by 2014.
Cashton resident Eldon Rumppe went around the community hall discussing the project with ATC representatives, but felt no sense of relief when he left.
"I think they're nuts for even consider placing a transmission line through this area and along a route so heavily populated with Amish families," Rumppe said.
Tourism was a concern for many who know how heavily traveled the country roads around Cashton are, as people visit the area to enjoy the scenic beauty and visit the Amish community.
"Hwys. D, U and 33 are heavily traveled with tourists and the ATC alternative route will be going right down the middle of these roadways. The Amish community and their dwellings will be adversely affected and they provide a major source of tourism in this area," John Hemmersbach, who resides along Co. U, said.
Hemmersbach also said he has concerns about stray voltage, which could become a future health concern for the thousands of cattle and animals that are being raised along the route.
John Dickman was concerned about the placement of the Badger Coulee line along Olympic Avenue, off Hwy. 33 between Cashton and Ontario, since maps showed its placement is right in his front yard.
Dickman, who has lived on the property for 20 years, was outraged by any plan that puts a high voltage line on his property.
"Hell no, I don't want this project to go through. You can't tell me land values won't be affected by this project, and I plan to fight it every step of the way. I feel like there's far too much double talk going on here. They want us to believe this is a good thing, but I'll never be convinced of that," Dickman said.
Dickman wasn't alone in his thoughts.
Beverly Bjornstad who lives near Moen Church and Co. PC is surrounded by wind turbines and wanted to learn more about the proposed transmission line. Bjornstad said the Badger Coulee line would add another towering element to the air space near her home. She reviewed the maps with Kent and Lucy Vaaler of Cashton.
The trio of onlookers agreed the ATC alternative project would not benefit the Cashton area if the PSC selected the route. They said they understood how reliant the world is on electricity, but they would opt for the preferred ATC route.
Edward Marx who resides in the town of Portland, was faced with a double-edged sword, considering the new line would pass right in front of his property, but ATC would in-turn incorporate the smaller existing transmission lines that currently encase his property into the new project. Marx said it was trading one eyesore with another.
Earl Laufenberg, the chairman for the town of Jefferson in Monroe County, was the most visibly upset visitor at the ATC open house. Laufenberg was speaking on behalf of property owners in his town, who have been calling him daily with numerous concerns after ATC released maps of the routes in October.
Laufenberg said he was shocked at the direction the alternative route was taking through Monroe County and is tired of the lies he feels people have been told by ATC since discussions began in 2010.
He sees no logic in sending the Badger Coulee line through the heart of so many family farms that would be adversely affected by the construction project. His constituents are concerned about falling property values if the alternative route is selected by the PSC over the preferred route.
Gonzales was aware of Laufenberg's frustration, but said the PSC makes the final decision, not ATC, on where the new line will be constructed. He said additional lines in Wisconsin are not a new concept and have been discussed for years. He said the need for additional lines in the state is well documented.
The Badger Coulee transmission line is not the only ATC line under development in the state. ATC has a transmission line across the state near Eau Claire, recently completed a transmission line near Duluth, Minn., and is developing a line in southern Wisconsin, as well as the Badger Coulee line in the central part of the state.
On Monday, a Dane County judge turned down a request by a citizens group for a review of a Wisconsin Public Service Commission decision approving the CapX2020 project.
The CapX2020 project is a $211 million, 48-mile, high-voltage transmission line from the Rochester, Minn., area to the Holmen area, near La Crosse. It is the last link of CapX2020, a 700-mile series of transmission lines starting in the Dakotas. The PSC approved the project on May 30.
The suit was thrown out because the lawyer representing the group, Carol Overland, is not licensed to practice law in Wisconsin.
The Citizens Energy Task Force is one of the groups that has opposed the CapX2020 project saying it’s not needed; it costs too much and no cost-benefit analysis was conducted.
Morse said CapX2020 opponents are not giving up.
“We’re determined to prevent the CapX project from being built. We have to figure out what our next step is, but it’s not going to end,” he said.
Spaltholz said other neighboring states like Minnesota and Illinois have more transmission lines already in place, and ATC has not had any major issues with them.
She said that the cost to consumers for the completion of either the preferred or the alternative route for the Badger Coulee line would be spread out over time and be paid by electric consumers throughout the Midwest, not just in the state of Wisconsin.
Consumers are already paying for upgrades and new projects, like the Badger Coulee line, every month in electric bills they receive. In fact, Spaltholz said, 8 to 10 percent of residential and business monthly utility bills are already earmarked for projects like the Badger Coulee line. She said the increase to consumers for the Badger Coulee project would be relatively small once it is spread out to all customers and could be as little as .15 per month.
Opponents of the line set up shop outside the community hall and provided alternative options to visitors as they entered and exited the open house.
Opponents from Citizens Energy Task Force (CETF) and the Soul of the Kickapoo, have said that demand for electricity isn't increasing rapidly enough to support constructing such a line and adequate maintenance of the existing electrical system would serve current and future electrical needs. Height of the electrical towers (approximately 170 feet) and the impact on the property along the route are also concerns of opponents, as well as the lack of attention being paid to the use of alternative energy sources to generate power.
Visitors to the open house were allowed access to a laptop computer, where they could leave a list of questions they would like a response to or a comment about the overall project.
Additional open houses were held in Onalaska, Black River Falls, Mauston and Waunakee last week.
ATC and Xcel Energy plan to submit the two routes to the PSC in early 2013. If the project is approved, the PSC will select one final route to be built by 2014, construction would begin in 2016, with a projected completion of the project by 2017-18.
(The Wisconsin State Journal contributed to this story.)