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Increases in efficiency and renewable energy, along with stable demand, raise questions about whether a 345,000-volt power line really is needed between La Crosse and Madison, experts said Wednesday evening.

Local residents concerned the line could result in 150-foot transmission towers striding through the Baraboo Bluffs have means to fight the proposal before Wisconsin utility regulators.

Energy efficiency expert Mark Hanson and Charlie Higley, executive director of the Citizens Utility Board, met with the Baraboo Bluffs Preservation Association at an event organized to provide a critical view of the proposed Badger Coulee Transmission Line Project. The line is a project of the American Transmission Co., a firm that specializes in building and operating major power transmission lines.

Hanson said one reason given for the new line is to bring wind power from states to the west into Wisconsin. However, he said the state already has a variety of power sources, including its own growing use of solar, wind and other renewables, to rely upon.

Sales of electricity in Wisconsin peaked at 70.3 million megawatt hours in 2005, dropped after the recession of 2008 and stood at 66.2 million megawatt hours in 2009, he said.

Madison is a growing city, but its peak demand on the hottest days of the summer has risen only from 742 megawatt-hours in 2006 to 753 megawatt-hours in 2011.

"If grid-based electricity isn't growing, it suggests we don't need additional transmission lines," Hanson said. "(Except) there might be new pockets or areas of demand.

"Is it possible for Wisconsin to grow while remaining at 66.2 million megawatt hours?" Hanson asked. "My answer is yes."

The tools to achieve that include efficiency, expansion of renewable energy (particularly at the places it is used) and managing power demand through the day to prevent demand from peaking at levels higher than the transmission system can handle.

Hanson said he works for a firm whose only business is putting up energy-efficient buildings, using features such as solar cells or geothermal heating. Other businesses are replacing conventional fluorescent lights with more advanced LED lights that use only 15 watts each.

The new office of the Madison software firm Epic has its own banks of solar power cells, he said.

Hanson asked that if Wisconsin's power demand already is stable and options for energy efficiency or local renewable energy are just now being implemented, is there really any reason for a new Badger Coulee Line?

Higley told the audience ATC must win approval for Badger Coulee and the route it will take from the Wisconsin Public Service Commission.

It must prove to the commissioners the project:

• Satisfies reasonable needs of the public for an electricity supply.

• Follows a route designed in the public interest, taking into account alternative sources of supply and avoiding needless hardships or environmental concerns.

• It must follow existing rights of way as much as possible.

Groups such as the Citizens Utility Board and members of the public may win recognition from the PSC as parties with standing to comment on the Badger Coulee Line proposal and participate in the decision-making process, Higley said. They even may win grants from the PSC to pay for assistance and experts to present their concerns during the process.

Baraboo-area residents who have filed comments on the proposal with ATC during its recent area open houses also should file comments with the PSC, Higley said. However, they cannot begin submitting comments to the commission until ATC formally files its request to for a permit to build Badger Coulee, a move expected to take place in January 2013, he said.

The Baraboo Range Preservation Association may be found online at http://www.baraboorange.org. Also, Higley invited questions at the CUB's office in Madison: (608) 251-3322.