Wisconsin draft EIS for proposed 345-kV Alma-La Crosse line raises concerns for project proponents

The draft environmental impact statement issued by Wisconsin regulators and the state Department of Natural Resources focuses solely on the load-serving component of the proposed Alma-La Crosse 345-kV transmission line and not on the line’s regional benefit, according to Tom Hillstrom, permitting manager for the CapX2020 Hampton-Rochester-La Crosse 345-kV transmission project, of which the Alma-La Crosse project is a part.

“That’s kind of our main concern with the draft EIS,” Hillstrom said Nov. 17. “It has to recognize more of the regional benefit of the line and not focus solely on the load-serving component of it.”

Hillstrom also said, “We’ve just started reviewing the draft EIS and are putting together our comments right now.”

The Obama administration in October said it would accelerate the permitting and construction of seven proposed electric transmission lines, including the Hampton-Rochester-La Crosse project.

The three utility applicants for the project are Northern States Power Company – Wisconsin, which is an Xcel Energy (NYSE:XEL) company, Dairyland Power Cooperative and WPPI Energy, according to the draft EIS.

The line would extend from the Wisconsin border in the Mississippi River west of Alma, Wisc., in Buffalo County, through Trempealeau County to a new 345/161-kV substation, known as the Briggs Road substation, to be built on the southwest side of Holmen, Wisc., in La Crosse County.

One of the stated reasons for this line is to address the community load serving needs in the La Crosse/Winona area, according to the draft EIS. In addition to the Winona area in Minnesota, the areas in Wisconsin served by this line are Buffalo, Trempealeau and La Crosse counties.

“It is not clear that there will be sufficient population growth in the La Crosse/Winona area to justify the projected increase in demand for electricity presented in the [certificate of public convenience and necessity] application,” the draft EIS added, noting that peak load growth in that area from 2002 to 2010 was 6.2% or an average annual growth rate of 0.77%. The applicants have projected the average annual growth in peak load from 2010 to 2030 to be 1.7%, or more than twice the historical peak load growth rate.

The draft EIS also noted that the applicants said the growing electricity demand in the area would exceed the capabilities of the existing electrical system to deliver power reliably under contingency conditions. “At this time, that conclusion is still being questioned,” the draft EIS said.

Proposed routes, environmental impact

The Alma-La Crosse line would be about 40 miles to 55 miles long, depending on the route and proposed route alternatives mostly follow existing 161- or 69-kV transmission line corridors.

The new line would, in most places, be a double-circuit, 345/161-kV line on single poles, the draft EIS added. The right-of-way would be about 150-feet wide. Wider ROWs up to 280 feet would be needed for specialty poles such as those for the Mississippi River crossing or those needed for supporting long spans between hilltops in the Wisconsin coulee landscape.

Two of the routes proposed, the Q1-Highway 35 Route and Q1-Galesville Route, for the project follow an existing 161-kV corridor southward as a 345/161-kV double-circuit line on metal, single-pole structures along Great River Road to the mouth of Waumandee Creek, between the villages of Cochrane and Fountain City.

The draft EIS also said that the state Department of Transportation has strong concerns about a route along Great River Road and has suggested an alternative, which would run from the Mississippi River crossing at Alma east as a 345/161 double-circuit to a point north of Waumandee Creek valley and then south along STH 88 as a single-circuit line to connect to, for instance, the Q-1 Highway 35.

Another route proposed by the applicants is the Arcadia Route, which avoids Great River Road and the Black River bottomlands and the Van Loon Wildlife area almost entirely.

On the project’s western end, the draft EIS added, every route alternative includes a Mississippi River crossing at Alma and the potential impacts associated with it in the Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge. At the eastern terminus, every route alternative includes the proposed Briggs Road substation and the potential impacts associated with that new large facility, which would replace several acres of agricultural land at one of two alternative sites.

In between these endpoints, the proposed and suggested route alternatives generally affect four basic impact areas, with some alternatives affecting more than one and some areas including more than one route alternative. The draft EIS also said the four main areas of impact appear to be:

  • The Great River Road area long the Mississippi River between Alma and the mouth of Waumandee Creek.
  • Woodlands, wetlands and farms in the hill-and-valley country inland from the Mississippi River.
  • Concentrations of homes, particularly south of Galesville.
  • Black River bottomlands, including the Van Loon State Wildlife Area, a high-quality wetland riverine complex.

Next steps

The PSC said Nov. 14 that it is accepting comments on the draft EIS and that the comment period ends Dec. 23.

Hillstrom said the project has three permitting processes: a Minnesota route permit process, a Wisconsin combined siting and need process, and the federal NEPA environmental impact statement process.

The process in Minnesota is the furthest along of the three. “We expect the route to be awarded in January,” Hillstrom said, adding that the decision in Wisconsin should be made next spring or summer, and the federal process should wrap up with a record of decision sometime next summer or fall.

About Corina Rivera-Linares 3286 Articles
Corina Rivera-Linares was TransmissionHub’s chief editor until August 2021, as well as part of the team that established TransmissionHub in 2011. Before joining TransmissionHub, Corina covered renewable energy and environmental issues, as well as transmission, generation, regulation, legislation and ISO/RTO matters at SNL Financial from 2005 to 2011. She has also covered such topics as health, politics, and education for weekly newspapers and national magazines.