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High-voltage application heads to PSC
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On April 30, the Wisconsin Public Service Commission (PSC) deemed the application for the Badger-Coulee regional high voltage transmission proposal submitted by American Transmission Company (ATC) and Xcel Energy to be complete.

The utilities’ preference, “Badger-Coulee,” is one of five, studied high and low profile transmission options in the application.  It would connect to a substation being constructed for the CapX2020 line near La Crosse and terminate in Middleton creating a transmission distribution hub around Madison and connections for two additional high capacity transmission lines which utilities have described in required reports.

The announcement comes five months after the PSC’s Nov. 21, 2013 finding that the utilities’ application had insufficient information. In deeming the application incomplete, the PSC said ATC and Xcel had not sufficiently documented need and potential impacts.  The PSC listed 88 questions pertaining to environmental and economic concerns and 64 concerning electricity needs and specifics about transmission and non-transmission options.

Save Our Unique Lands (SOUL) of Wisconsin believes the application is still incomplete because it fails to adequately answer the PSC’s questions, and doesn’t address the fact that energy use has been decreasing or consider other solutions that could be more financially and environmentally sustainable.

“Despite extra efforts by the PSC’s efforts to encourage the utilities to provide Wisconsin ratepayers with clear comparisons of benefits from different investment directions, the utilities barely scraped the surface of non-transmission options such as accelerated energy efficiency and solar,” said SOUL secretary Rob Danielson.  “We know from looking at other states that these options truly save homes, farms and businesses lots of money.  Wisconsin’s focus should be on keeping energy dollars in state while maintaining reliability and reducing emissions in the quickest and most cost-effective ways. So far, ATC and Xcel have avoided telling ratepayers the total cost for high voltage transmission expansion and 8 lines they have announced for our state.”

PSC questioning and persistence has supplied some important, new information for ratepayers including a report showing energy use in the Midwest has declined much faster than previously known, at almost 2.5 percent per year since 2007, five times the recently reported national rate of decline. “Decline in use means less stress on power plants and transmission which allows ratepayers to consider investments to help them lower their bills by reducing waste,” said Danielson.  “Saving money and becoming less dependent on centralized power was on the minds of many Vernon County ratepayers who rushed to purchase all 1001 solar panels of a 305 kW farm to offset the rising costs of utility-supplied power.”

ATC and Xcel’s economic forecasting avoids examples based on declining energy use but the examples they did provide based on slower growth show significant decreases in potential savings to energy customers. After investment costs to build the Badger-Coulee line, the estimated return of $20-40 million over 40 years under slow growth computes to a _ to 1 cent per residential ratepayer per month, on average.  By comparison, investing in one, 13 watt compact florescent light bulb instead of an incandescent 60 watt bulb returns 40 cents per month on the investment based on three hours use per day.

“The PSC asked for some of the crucial information requested by more than 90 Wisconsin municipalities and more than 2,000 state ratepayers,” he said.  “The stage has been set for an unprecedented number of Wisconsin ratepayers and elected representatives to encourage the state to allow individuals and communities to invest in their energy priorities.  State laws create this opportunity; we must show up and insist on it.”

The first opportunity is several “scoping meetings” in June sponsored by the PSC where all state ratepayers and residents are invited to describe their environmental, economic and energy priorities for the PSC’s required Environmental Impact Statement.  More than 20 municipalities have asked the PSC to sponsor a socio-economic study comparing impacts on tourism, business development and net energy operation costs for all energy options.