LA CROSSE — A proposed high-voltage power line between Holmen and Madison has hit a snag as Wisconsin regulators asked for more information recently on the Badger-Coulee transmission project.
The Public Service Commission outlined 153 specific deficiencies in the application, which was filed a little more than four weeks ago.
The concerns range from missing or broken elements in electronic mapping files to requests for additional explanation of the project need – a key issue for project opponents, who argue that local energy demand has been dropping.
Two routes are proposed for the line, and both come through Columbia County. The 182-mile northern route follows Interstate 90/94 from northern Dane County to Black River Falls, west to Blair and then south to Holmen. The 159-mile southern route heads north near the interstate to Portage, then northwest along Highway 16. At Lyndon Station, it turns west, through Elroy to Cashton, then north to Rockland and west along I-90 to Onalaska and then to Holmen.
American Transmission Co., one of the project’s two developers, said it will work to provide the Public Service Commission with the additional information as soon as possible — likely sometime in 2014. That will delay the review process, which is expected to take 12 to 18 months.
The request for more details was not unexpected.
“Especially with the size and complexity of this project, it was somewhat to be expected,” said ATC spokeswoman Kaya Freiman.
According to the application, ATC hoped to begin construction in 2016 and to have the line in service by the end of 2018.
A joint venture of ATC and Xcel Energy, the project includes two proposed routes out of the La Crosse area at a cost of $514 million to $552 million. One could scuttle a major commercial development in Onalaska; the other would put a second line of towers – often running side-by-side – along an eight-mile route between Holmen and Galesville.
The line will connect to CapX2020, another high-voltage line being built between the Twin Cities and Holmen.
ATC says it will provide lower cost electricity and enhanced reliability for Wisconsin customers while also providing a pathway for renewable energy.
The project has prompted opposition and calls for a comprehensive study of alternatives from dozens of municipalities and counties in western Wisconsin. Business groups -- including the state’s Chamber of Commerce and grocers’ association — have come out in support.
Rob Danielson is with SOUL of Wisconsin, a group that favors energy efficiency measures and other alternatives to the high-voltage project. He praised the PSC for asking to see a comprehensive discussion of the need for and alternatives to the project -- including the costs and benefits of the project for both Wisconsin and the 11-state footprint of the regional wholesale electricity market.
But Danielson argued the board should consider the collective costs of transmission rather than approving projects in a “piecemeal” fashion and give emphasis to efficiency rather than capital-intensive investments.
“They really have to provide ratepayers a way to know what our energy options are,” he said. “This is a major, major expansion of centralized power. Do we want to continue to support the finance industry?”
Two groups have petitioned the PSC for the right to intervene in the review.
The Midcontinent Independent System Operator is the regional utility organization serving states across the Midwest and claims a substantial interest in the outcome.
Clean Wisconsin is a nonprofit environmental group seeking to minimize the project’s damage to environmentally sensitive areas.
“Western Wisconsin is just rich with wetlands and rare and endangered species,” said Katie Nekola, the group’s general counsel. “It’s an area of the state that absolutely needs protection.”