The chairman of Wisconsin’s Public Service Commission now says he may attend some of the public hearings next week on a proposed high-voltage power line between Holmen and Madison.
As of Wednesday, PSC Chairman Phil Montgomery plans to attend hearings Dec. 9-11 in Holmen, Cashton and Warrens, according to agency spokesman Nathan Conrad, who said commissioner schedules remain “fluid.”
The three governor-appointed commissioners previously said they did not plan to attend any of the five public hearings on the Badger-Coulee project, a proposed 345-kilovolt power line that is the most expensive transmission project the panel has considered.
The commissioners determine whether and where American Transmission Co. and Xcel Energy may build the line, which could encroach on up to 556 residences, as well as farm, forest and public lands. It is expected to cost up to $580 million with Wisconsin electric consumers picking up about 15 percent of the tab.
ATC and Xcel say the line, which would tie in to another high-voltage project now being built between Hampton, Minn., and Holmen, would improve system reliability, deliver cheaper power for Wisconsin consumers and provide a pipeline for wind energy from Minnesota and Iowa to population centers to the east.
Opponents say the demand is not there, and the line would allow utilities to profit by trading energy while discouraging more cost-effective alternatives such as energy efficiency and solar power.
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Conrad said Commissioner Ellen Nowak is undecided, while Commissioner Eric Callisto will not attend the hearings because his six-year term ends Feb. 28 and he does not expect to be re-appointed.
Regardless of attendance, Conrad said the commissioners read transcripts of all comments made at the hearings. Commissioners are not allowed to respond to questions or comment at public hearings, nor can they speak to the media about pending cases.
The commission is expected to issue a final decision in April.
Both opponents of the project and lawmakers — including state Sen. Jennifer Shilling, D-La Crosse, and Sen. Dale Schultz, R-Richland Center — have urged commissioners to attend the hearings, scheduled between Dec. 8 and 15 in Waunakee, Holmen, Cashton, Warrens and Wisconsin Dells.
Written comments can be submitted through Jan. 5.
Experts will testify on behalf of applicants, opponents and other interested parties at a technical hearing scheduled for Jan. 6 in Madison.