Update from Guy Wolf about Wisconsin transmission referendum… hmmmmmm, maybe we could do that here in Minnesota?ATC, American Transmission Company, the Wisconsin version of TRANSLink (the Xcel driven for-profit transmission company that couldn’t justify its existence to make it through PUC scrutiny) (so ME3, the Waltons, MCEA and George Crocker gave it to them in their TRANSLink deal and in Article 1 of the 2005 transmission bill – who do they think they are?) is facing a referendum on transmission. Why? Because ATC is proposing a large web of transmission lines through Dane County, and the citizens aren’t too happy with that. Here’s what they’re proposing:

Dane County System Map

Fitchburg-Verona Transmission Line

North Madison – Waunakee Transmission Line


WOW, that’s a lot of transmission! These are the lines, the hub, that the transmission lines from the Dakotas through Minnesota will connect to. Here’s that CapX2020 map again:

Big Picture map jpeg.jpg

Here’s the article Guy sent (when I went to the Cap Times to get the link, I was greeted by an ATC banner on top, oh barf):

ATC backs study request but exec says it’s not needed

JUDY NEWMAN 608-252-6156
November 5, 2006

American Transmission Co. has taken out full-page ads in today’s Wisconsin State Journal and The Capital Times urging a “yes” vote on Tuesday’s Dane County referendum on power lines.

The referendum asks county voters whether a new, independent study should be conducted to see if the county truly needs more high-power transmission lines.

It’s not that the public utility company in charge of most of those towering lines in Wisconsin thinks the outcome will change. Mark Williamson, ATC’s vice president for major projects, called the referendum question “stupid” in a telephone interview Friday. He said it’s a moot issue because the state Public Service Commission will conduct a study before deciding whether the lines can be built.

“There has to be an independent study. The law requires the state Public Service Commission to perform such a review and certify that there is a need” in order to approve the projects, he said.

Transmission line skeptics, though, have been pressing for a new study and say a PSC review is not what they have in mind.

“There is no way the PSC can do an independent study that is comparable” to a comprehensive study by an independent consultant that was conducted nearly two years ago, said Robin Stearns, spokeswoman for Citizens for Responsible Energy, a coalition of citizen groups opposing new transmission lines. That study confirmed the need for new transmission lines, but opponents of the new lines say population and power use are not growing as quickly as had been projected.

The skeptics also say several proposed transmission projects in Dane County are each being handled separately, with separate studies – something, Stearns said, that won’t provide a comprehensive look at the county’s energy transmission needs and alternatives.

Williamson, though, is as sure as ever that up to $250 million in transmission updates “absolutely” will be needed to keep the power on in Dane County in coming years.

The referendum is advisory and has no force of law. It doesn’t include a price tag or indicate who will pay for the study. Williamson said a previous study cost more than $200,000.

The PSC doesn’t comment on issues pending before it.

Opening skirmish The ballot question comes as tensions mount over plans for one relatively small transmission proposal: an 8-mile stretch through Waunakee. The $11 million, 138-kilovolt line would run from the town of Vienna to the town of Westport.

It is seen as the opening skirmish of what’s expected to be an even bigger battle over the crown jewel of ATC’s local plans: a 345-kilovolt line that would form a 35- to 55-mile belt from west of Middleton to the village of Rockdale on Dane County’s eastern edge. There are three proposed routes for that line, and an application for the project won’t be submitted until March or April, Williamson said.

ATC has recommended $3.5 billion worth of upgrades and new transmission lines statewide through 2013. The utility company says the improvements are needed to keep the lights on as the population grows and residents fill their homes with big-screen TVs, multiple computers, extra freezers and other electrical devices.

In the Waunakee case, more than 85 families, organizations and governmental bodies have asked the PSC for permission to participate in the process as intervenors providing testimony – an unprecedented number, Williamson said. Even the bitterly contested Arrowhead- Weston case, which involved a 220-mile, 345-kilovolt transmission line from Duluth, Minn., to the Wausau area, drew 10,000 angry letters opposed to the line but only about 20 intervenors, he said.

Two groups requested funds from the PSC by September’s deadline to pay experts who will help them make their case against the proposed line in Waunakee. The Sierra Club will get $61,900 – about half the amount it sought – and Citizens for Responsible Energy, a coalition of citizen groups fighting the project, asked for $36,000 and will get $30,000, the PSC ruled last month.

“ATC has a lot of experts in- house and some other consultants outside. But if we’re going to put on a case, we need experts as well, and they’re not cheap,” said David Bender, of the Garvey McNeil & McGillivray law firm in Madison, representing the Sierra Club.

The intervenor requests come from more than 60 residents or families, neighborhood groups as far south as Oregon, utility companies, political groups and Dane County, the city of Madison and the village of Waunakee. Not all are opposed to the project.

“We think that line is needed for local (electrical) load serving and reliability needs in the Waunakee area,” said Scott Neitzel, Madison Gas & Electric’s vice president for energy supply policy.

No additions have been made in 30 years to Dane County’s network of high- voltage lines, and Waunakee has been served by a transmission line that dates back to the 1930s, said Sarah Justus, an ATC spokeswoman.

Questions challenged In the past several weeks, at least half a dozen residents who applied to participate in the case have pulled out. Stearns, a spokeswoman for Citizens for Responsible Energy, thinks she knows why.

“Every individual who’s intervened was served an interrogatory (by the ATC) . . . a 16- page document filled with questions that demanded information like how many light bulbs do you have in your house? How many EnergyStar appliances? They demanded five years of back electric-use records. It’s all information that is completely inappropriate and irrelevant to the case but is designed to intimidate,” Stearns said.

State Rep. Sondy Pope- Roberts, D-Verona, was so incensed by the lengthy documents – part of what she called repeated attempts by ATC to block public input – that she said the questionnaire “borders on abusive use of power” in an Oct. 30 letter to ATC.

Williamson, though, said both Pope-Roberts and the public are misinterpreting the role of intervenors in PSC cases. They are usually lawyers, and they provide hard data on the “nuts and bolts” of utility proposals, such as the impact of potential sites and routes on wildlife, the environment and the project’s engineering requirements. Their comments come during the state’s technical hearings, Williamson said.

“We urge the members of the public to participate in the . . . process but suggest that their participation would likely be most appropriate in the public hearing,” Williamson said, in a Nov. 2 letter responding to Pope-Roberts.

The PSC has scheduled technical hearings on the Waunakee line in January and February 2007. Public hearings are set for Feb. 3 and 5.

Conservation debated Meanwhile, edgy e-mails also have been flying back and forth between Williamson and Jerry Mendl, an independent energy consultant who recently said Dane County may be able to put off new transmission lines for 10 years or more if residents cut their power use enough.

Mendl, president of MSB Energy Associates in Middleton, was the key author of a study nearly two years ago that confirmed the need for major new transmission lines in Dane County. He now says the population and power use are not growing as quickly as projected, while at the same time, the public has become more interested in conserving energy and more state money is available for energy efficiency and renewable power projects.

Williamson, in a Nov. 3 e- mail to Mendl, agreed that “real, concerted and measurable conservation efforts” could “possibly postpone the need for additional lines yet-to-be proposed.

But he wrote, “conservation will not alleviate the need for the current round of Dane County projects.”

Next steps Technical hearings on the proposed 138-kilovolt line in the Waunakee area are scheduled in January and February. Public hearings will be held Feb. 3 and 5. A decision from the Wisconsin Public Service Commission is expected in spring 2007.

In a separate case, ATC is proposing a 345-kilovolt transmission line from west of Middleton to Dane County’s eastern edge. ATC plans to narrow the list of possible routes for that line from three to two and file an application with the PSC on that proposal in March or April. For more information, go online to psc.wi.gov or call 608-266-5481 or 888-816-3831.

Another one, from a couple weeks ago, brings out the irony in this. The lines go through the Belleville neighborhood of “an engineer whose name I can’t recall” and in West Middleton, right by MSB Energy Assoc., known for being expert witnesses against transmission projects, i.e. David Schoengold was one of my witnesses in the SW MN 345kV case. Mendl, the “Key Author” is a principle of MSB, the “M” and Schoengold is the “S”:

Expert: Update powerline study

Key Author Questions Need For New Power Lines

Wisconsin State Journal :: BUSINESS :: C10
Tuesday, October 24, 2006
JUDY NEWMAN jdnewman@madison.com 608-252-6156
The key author of a report nearly two years ago that said Dane County needed major new transmission lines by 2011 to keep the lights on now says those high-voltage lines may not be needed after all — or, at least until 2020 — if residents cut their electricity use enough.

Jerry Mendl, president of MSB Energy Associates, a Middleton consultant firm, says so many things have changed since the study was released that the initial findings may no longer apply.

Mendl sent an e-mail Thursday to members of the Energy Initiative — 11 utility companies and citizen groups involved in the 2004 study — saying both electricity use and population are growing at slower rates than earlier projected.

At the same time, more power plants have been built and more money is available for energy efficiency programs. And, with numerous groups fighting a proposed 35- to 55-mile, 345-kilovolt line across Dane County, more residents might be willing to take steps to cut their power use, Mendl said.

Enough to eliminate the need for the line?

“I think there’s a chance for that, yes,” Mendl said.

He said it’s not clear yet how much electricity use would have to be reduced.

“If you cut it down to a 1 percent growth rate, it moves from 2011 to 2020 or later before you run into the same level of urgency” for new transmission, he said.

Mendl said he’d like to reconvene the Energy Initiative group, expand it to include some of the citizen opposition groups and conduct an updated study.

If that happens, American Transmission Co. — which owns and oversees much of the transmission grid carrying power into and around the state — would not object.

“We’re certainly not going to stop anything,” said Mark Williamson, ATC’s vice president for major projects. But he said he’s confident the result won’t change.

“We know the facilities are desperately needed,” Williamson said.

Reaction from environmental groups is mixed.

“I think Jerry’s logic was impeccable,” said Michael Vickerman, executive director of RENEW Wisconsin. “We think a new study is called for.”

Not only is electricity use growing at a lower rate, but home construction nationwide is “beginning a massive slowdown,” Vickerman said. “If people who want to move to Wisconsin can’t sell their homes in New Jersey, they’re not going to move to Wisconsin.”

But Steve Hiniker, executive director of 1,000 Friends of Wisconsin, said he sees no need for another study, even though he opposes the 345-kilovolt line.

“It makes absolutely no sense to spend another penny updating this because we know what the arguments are,” Hiniker said. “The updated arguments should be brought before the Wisconsin Public Service Commission, where the decision is going to be made.”

ATC paid for the first study, which cost at least $200,000, Williamson said, from charges to ratepayers.

Mendl’s recent e-mail also suggests new transmission line technology could help cut the need for new lines — a recommendation that also came from a group of Madison and Dane County public officials.

But Williamson said the aluminum-conductor-composite-reinforced line won’t handle Dane County’s power needs. “It’s dandy stuff if you’re trying to fix a fairly short span of wire; we’ve used it in several places in our system. But it won’t solve a fundamental overload problem for growth, and that’s what we’re faced with,” he said.

Another potential hitch: Madison Gas & Electric has said it plans to shut down much of the coal-fired Blount Street power plant within six years and convert the rest to burn natural gas.

But Mendl, a former PSC administrator, said use of that aging power plant is essential to maintain Madison’s electricity flow and without it, more high-voltage transmission lines on the outskirts — or even within Madison — may be needed, anyway.

Dane County voters will be asked on the Nov. 7 ballot if they support an independent study of how to address Dane County’s future electricity needs.

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