Today’s article in the LaCrosse Tribune is a lot different than the last one on this blog, which said “New high voltage line unlikely here.” And keep in mind this is not the work of RPU — it’s been in planning for a long time, since it was Option 2 of the WRAO report. And I’ve learned from Greg Woodworth, Engineer at RPU, that it even goes back to a study in 1978! Look at who the big beneficiaries are of this project, those with the generation that they want to ship long distances… who might that be?


Published – Monday, October 03, 2005

Proposed 345,000-volt line would cut through La Crosse County

By REID MAGNEY / La Crosse Tribune
A major new power line might be coming to La Crosse.

Several electric utilities want to run a 345-kilovolt power line from eastern Minnesota to northern La Crosse County by 2011, and eventually extend it to central Wisconsin.

Utilities say existing lines are inadequate and they need a high-voltage line connecting Xcel Energy’s Prairie Island nuclear reactor and Wisconsin Power & Light’s Columbia coal plant to meet growing demand in the Rochester, Minn., and La Crosse areas.

“We want to improve the reliability and the stability of the system,” said Chuck Callies, vice president of power delivery for Dairyland Power Cooperative, one of the utilities involved in the plan.

“For long term service to (La Crosse), a 345-kV facility looks like the best value for our customers,” said Don Jones, transmission portfolio director for Xcel Energy.

But watchdogs say the utilities are overbuilding high-voltage lines just so they can sell power generated in Minnesota and the Dakotas to customers in southern Wisconsin and northern Illinois.

Environmentalist Guy Wolf of Stoddard, Wis., said he’s concerned about the 345-kilovolt line “creating an incredible scenario of new dirty coal and old toxic nuclear for our energy future.”

“Do we even need this line? And will this line kill any chance of smaller, renewable energy?” Wolf said.

“We are at a crossroads,” said Carol Overland, an attorney from Northfield, Minn., who opposes the new line. “If they build the transmission lines, the big, polluting generation will come. Is this the energy future we want?”

Transmission plans

Plans to connect Xcel Energy’s Prairie Island nuclear plant and Wisconsin Power & Light’s Columbia coal plant near Portage, Wis., have been on the drawing board for many years, including the Wisconsin power line study that recommended the controversial Arrowhead-Weston line from Duluth, Minn., to Wausau, Wis.

Minnesota utilities, including Xcel Energy, have formed CapX 2020 to plan for the next 15 years of transmission projects. Individual utilities are expected to seek certificates of need for six major projects in the coming year or so.

One of those projects is the estimated $200 million, 345-kV line from Prairie Island to Rochester to north La Crosse. They will file with Minnesota’s Public Utilities Commission for a certificate of need in the first quarter of 2006.

Rochester’s needs

The Prairie Island-Rochester-La Crosse line idea grew out of Rochester Public Utilities’ need for more power and better reliability, said Scott Nickels, senior electrical engineer for the utility.

RPU considered adding another 161-kV line from Prairie Island, but decided to build a 345-kV line because it would meet Rochester’s needs until 2051 instead of 2023, he said.

However, getting a certificate of need for a 345-kV line from Prairie Island to Rochester might be a problem, so RPU decided to make the project regional and include La Crosse, Nickels said.

Even though Dairyland will be involved in the 345-kV project, they will only be using about 15 percent of the line’s capacity, said Dairyland’s Callies. Xcel, RPU and Southern Minnesota Municipal Power Agency also would participate.

Grid needs

The largest high-voltage lines in the Coulee Region now carry 161-kV, and aren’t adequate to move power through the area or handle new generation sources, Callies said.

Much of the La Crosse is served by Xcel Energy, but most of its power comes through 161-kV lines connecting Dairyland’s coal plants in Genoa and Alma, Wis., which will be upgraded in coming years.

Wisconsin’s transmission system is the country’s most congested, which “raises costs,” Callies said.

When Dairyland can’t bring power in from the outside, it has to fire up smaller gas turbines, which produce peak power at several times the cost of coal, he said.

Jones said a connection between Prairie Island and Columbia has been on the drawing board for many years. However, connecting to the Columbia plant isn’t as important as tying into another 345 kV line somewhere in eastern Wisconsin.

Creating such a loop would give the La Crosse area access to lower-cost energy, Jones said.

But Wolf said he’s concerned bringing in power from outside plants will discourage development of smaller, renewable energy sources, such as wind and solar.

“Either it (the state) sides with multinational utilities and transmission companies, importing dirty coal and tons of mercury while continuing to lose good-paying jobs, or it will decide on a future that promises a clean, sustainable energy future, with the promise of locally produced renewable energy that will increase its tax base, build local economies, all while improving the health of its citizens,” Wolf said.

But Callies and Jones said western Wisconsin’s power grid isn’t adequate to handle the kind of local power generation Wolf wants.

“The project will benefit everybody because it will relieve congestion that now prohibits people from doing renewable energy,” Callies said.

The system is so congested now that even small projects have to be reviewed before they can go on line, he said. A 6 megawatt generator powered by landfill gas in Washburn County can only deliver 3 mW because of limited transmission, he said.

Who’s right?

“Both sides are right,” said Charlie Higley, executive director of Wisconsin’s Citizen’s Utilities Board. “It’s well established that the electrical system in western Wisconsin is not as robust as other parts of the state.”

But Higley said Overland and Wolf also are correct that larger power lines would allow utilities to bring in power from coal and nuclear plants.

“We need to build what’s needed and no more,” Higley said. “But what’s the right amount?”

He compared the electric grid to a highway system. “Only so many cars can drive on a two-lane highway before it gets dangerous,” Higley said. “We may need a four-land road.”

The states of Wisconsin and Minnesota need to make sure their utilities are working together on transmission planning, Higley said. And the public also needs to become more involved in monitoring plans.

Reid Magney can be reached at (608) 791-8211 or

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