Even as questions have been raised about its necessity, preparations for the Badger-Coulee transmission line appear all but complete.
American Transmission Co. and XCel Energy announced last week that the myriad suggested routes from earlier in the year have been reduced to two — a preferred route and an alternate.
Fortunately, both have a limited footprint in Sauk County. Unfortunately, one proposal would take the project near downtown Wisconsin Dells, an option that does not make a lot of sense.
Early in the process, proposed routes crossing the Baraboo Bluffs and the Kickapoo Valley — two of southern Wisconsin’s most scenic areas — were scratched from the list of possibilities.
The preferred route primarily follows Interstate 94 from northern Dane County to Black River Falls.
The alternate route runs north along Interstate 39 to Portage and then along Highway 16, crossing the Wisconsin River at Broadway in Wisconsin Dells. From there, it returns to Interstate 94 until it heads straight west from Lyndon Station.
While the routes have almost no footprint in Sauk County, their existence will have a major impact on the appearance of our region’s landscape.
If you want a preview of what’s to come along the 150- to 170-mile, 345-kilovolt project, look no further than Madison’s Beltline. A new transmission line installed this year from Middleton to Rockdale is scheduled to be put into service early next year.
There is no question that the Beltline and other portions of Wisconsin’s interstate system are not the most aesthetically pleasing elements our state has to offer. Still, the massive gray towers dominating the skyline above add another ugly element to the mix.
Of critical concern is the alternate route, which crosses the heart of the state’s No. 3 tourist destination — Wisconsin Dells.
The new towers would follow an existing railroad and utility corridor — just south of downtown Dells, where a large electric substation already exists — before crossing the river and returning to the interstate.
While the plan would make use of existing utility corridors, it makes little sense to cram even more utilities into a river crossing that already is bursting with people, traffic, trains, the Kilbourn Hydroelectric Dam and other utilities.
In addition, placing a series of towers as tall as 150 feet in the heart of a tourism destination does not seem like a good way forward.
It’s easy to see this case as a not-in-my-backyard situation. Perhaps it is. When no one really wants something, we probably should step back and ask, “Is this really necessary?”
In many ways, the project is a sign of progress. The nation’s infrastructure is aging and the electrical grid has been singled out as a major liability, possibly even a threat to national security.
The Badger-Coulee project would tie in to the 700-mile CapX2020 series of power lines beginning in the Dakotas. These power lines will bring electricity from large wind farms coming online there, in addition to beefing up the transmission infrastructure for more traditional fossil fuel sources of electricity.
In addition to how ugly they are, the power lines are incredibly expensive. The power they carry is part of the entire Midwestern power grid and the costs for the project will be spread across consumers in the region.
ATC spokeswoman Anne Spaltholz recently said it was too soon to tell what portion individual rate payers would pick up of the $475 million to $500 million project.
However, we all can be assured that some portion of the cost will appear on our electric bills in the near future.
That’s a high price for a project that may or may not be necessary as the increasing demand for electricity has slowed to a crawl. Regardless, it’s coming. Let’s hope it follows the existing interstate.
The News Republic’s Editorial Board meets regularly to discuss and opine about matters of local concern.