MAUSTON — A state legislator told a group of more than 40 people in Mauston on Wednesday that he is growing frustrated with a lack of cooperation by the state Public Service Commission in agreeing to a public meeting within his district.
“If you are a citizen and you want to know what your state’s energy policy is and how it’s derived, you ought to have that right,” said Sen. Dale Schultz, whose 17th District includes the Reedsburg area.
Schultz’s comments came at the latest in a series of meetings in Juneau County sparked by the proposed Badger Coulee Transmission Line Project of American Transmission Co.
At a similar meeting in the village of Lyndon Station in August, Schultz, a Republican from Richland Center, told residents he would work with Democratic state Sen. Jennifer Schilling to schedule a meeting between citizens and PSC officials in one or both Senate districts.
Schilling’s 32nd District includes the western counties of La Crosse, Vernon and Crawford.
Schultz said the request took a “bizarre” turn with the PSC first balking for legal reasons that centered on PSC commissioners’ inability to participate in a meeting on a topic over which they hold decision-making power.
But Schultz said his and Schilling’s request was not for a meeting about the Badger Coulee project, or even for a meeting that involved commissioners, but for a general discussion with PSC staff about state energy policy and the process for approval of new transmission line projects.
“Nowhere does our Sept. 20 inquiry reference any contested case or proposed transmission line, or one with an open docket,” Schultz said.
PSC officials responded to a follow-up clarification from Schultz and Schilling by telling the lawmakers that such a meeting could be construed as a public hearing and was therefore inappropriate.
Schultz said he told PSC officials that such a meeting could be legally held with proper public notice without the appearance of a public hearing or legal issues that might ensue from a public hearing.
PSC officials replied by telling Schultz that a public session would be contrary to commission policy. Schultz said he pushed back, but was unsatisfied with the reply.
The Mauston session was spearheaded by a group that calls itself the Juneau County Decline the Line group and, besides Schultz, included two other invited guests.
“It’s not a done deal,” said Debra Severson, one of the two and a member of the Citizens Energy Task Force. “Many people believe for Badger Coulee it’s all about where the line is going to go. No, that’s not the case.”
Vernon County resident Rob Danielson is chairman of the town of Stark’s Energy Planning Information Committee.
Danielson is an advocate for alternative power sources, such as wind, and a decentralized power grid that moves away from large transmission lines, which move power over long distances to consumers, in favor of a locally generated power.
“This is about a regional expansion,” Danielson said. “This isn’t something that just impacts you in your county. This impacts every citizen in Wisconsin.”
Some who attended the session said they were opposed to the project, including former biology teacher Tom Johnson of Cashton, who said the transmission line would have heavy impacts on the ecologically sensitive Driftless Area of Southwest Wisconsin, which has a high concentration of threatened species.
“This is a travesty,” Johnson said. “If the concern that does the environmental impact statement has any conscience or common sense this will be dead in the water.”
New Lisbon resident Dean Hansen, who said he worked in the power industry for 40 years, said transmission lines are very important to quality of life..
“It’s a lot cheaper to build it today than it will be tomorrow, when we find out it’s too late and you’re running into brownouts,” Hansen said. “I don’t believe electricity use is going down in the next 25 years. I don’t buy that.”
Tomah resident Scott Nicol said that his property will not be affected by the transmission line and that he has no particular interest in alternative energy.
But Nicol said he was curious about the project and that he was concerned about the approval process, which he said did not feel right to him.
“It’s a process in which no matter what I say or what I do I’m not going to be heard, and that doesn’t feel very good,” Nicol said.
In August, the Juneau County board of Supervisors joined county boards in Vernon, Sauk, Monroe and Jackson counties in adopting a resolution demanding more information about the need for the project and possible alternatives.
Schultz said about 30 units of government within his district have either passed resolutions seeking more information or contacted him personally to request it.
“That gets my attention, and I think that’s entirely fair and appropriate,” Schultz said.