Several groups opposed to a high-voltage transmission line across western Wisconsin have petitioned state utility regulators for a new hearing on the controversial $580 million project that was approved last month.
The Citizens Energy Task Force and Save Our Unique Lands jointly petitioned the Public Service Commission Wednesday for a rehearing on the panel’s April 23 decision to approve the line, known as Badger-Coulee.
A joint venture of Xcel Energy and American Transmission Company, the 345-kilovolt line will originate at a substation under construction near Briggs Road that is part of CapX2020, another high-voltage transmission project running across Minnesota and western Wisconsin. Crews are at work raising towers along the $211 million portion of that project between Alma and Holmen, with work expected to be completed this summer.
ATC and Xcel say the project will improve system reliability, deliver cheaper power and provide a pipeline for wind energy from Minnesota and Iowa to population centers to the east. Opponents contended the line will allow utilities to profit by trading energy while discouraging more cost-effective local alternatives such as energy efficiency and solar power.
The groups, both intervenors in the case, claim new evidence corroborates their position that the line is not needed, citing data from the federal Energy Information Administration that shows U.S. electricity sales fell steeply during the recession and have not grown since rebounding in 2010.
In Wisconsin, they point out, sales last year were about 1.8 percent below 2005.
“Savings potential from high capacity transmission lines generally declines as energy use drops,” the groups said in a news release. “There are indications that contrary to terms of PSC approval, the project could make energy cost more than if the line was not built. These costs would be felt in addition to the negative impacts on local economies where the line would be located.”
A group of 30 Dane County landowners filed a separate rehearing petition Wednesday asking the PSC to reject a 4.6-mile segment near Middleton, noting that route comes within 100 feet of three homes. As an alternative, they ask commissioners to require ATC to bury the line, a more expensive option.
Like SOUL and CETF, the Segment A landowners argue the PSC failed to determine the project’s cost-benefit ratio for electric consumers.
The project could end up losing money, they argue. And while state law allows utilities to recoup losses, there are no such protections for customers.
The PSC has 30 days to consider the rehearing requests. If commissioners take no action, it is by default denied.
“We acknowledge we have received a petition for rehearing,” said PSC spokesman Nathan Conrad. “It’s up to the discretion of the commissioners as to whether to grant that petition.”
Last month the Town of Holland challenged the ruling in circuit court, also arguing that the line is not needed and the decision was based “on deficient environmental analysis.”
The PSC has yet to file a response in that case.
Construction of the new line is not expected to begin until 2016, but ATC said it will begin acquiring easements along the route next month, working from south to north. Altogether, there are 318 residences - including 169 homes - within 300 feet of the approved route, which cuts through 617.5 acres of farmland.
Nearly 90 percent of those residences are along the northern portion of the route, through La Crosse, Trempealeau, Jackson, Monroe and Juneau counties. Almost half are in the Holmen area.
Utilities, like governments, have the power of eminent domain, which means they have the legal right to take ownership or cross private property. Landowners must be compensated for their loss but do not have the power to refuse.