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Utility regulators reject requests for new hearing on Badger-Coulee transmission line

Utility regulators reject requests for new hearing on Badger-Coulee transmission line

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Power line

The above 345-kilovolt line, which is located in rural Dane County, is similar to what will run through the Coulee Region. The average pole height for the Badger-Coulee line is between 100 and 130 feet.

Utility regulators have denied a request to re-consider their approval for a high-voltage power line that will cut through the Coulee Region as it carries electricity to Madison.

Several groups opposed to the $580 million project known as Badger-Coulee petitioned the Public Service Commission for a new hearing on its April decision.

The three-member PSC voted unanimously Wednesday morning to reject requests, standing behind the legality of their approval for the controversial project.

“Our process in the decision making was solid,” said Commissioner Phil Montgomery.

A joint venture of Xcel Energy and American Transmission Co., 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.

Two grassroots organizations, the Citizens Energy Task Force and Save Our Unique Lands claimed new evidence supported 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 pointed out, sales last year were about 1.8 percent below 2005.

“I don’t find that persuasive,” said Commissioner Mike Huebsch of West Salem.

Chairwoman Ellen Nowak said the project would provide a net benefit even at 0.2 percent growth.

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.

Rob Danielson, secretary of SOUL, said the commission is pushing policy that Wisconsin residents don't want.

"The future the commissioners are envisioning in their crystal ball depends on Wisconsin ratepayers wasting more energy," he said, "when in reality ratepayers are insisting on using less and less." 

CETF spokeswoman Deb Severson said she still believes the case was decided on bad information but that her organization will likely not challenge the decision in court.

“I hope we’ve made a good strong difference in our educational efforts,” she said.  

The town of Holland has challenged the decision in circuit court, also arguing that the line is not needed and the decision was based “on deficient environmental analysis.”

The PSC has until July 24 to respond.

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.


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