Public comments surge in advance of deadline for CapX2020 line

The Public Service Commission of Wisconsin (PSCW) received a last-minute influx of public comments on the Wisconsin portion of the proposed CapX2020 line between Alma and Holmen. The deadline for filling comments on the segment of the 345-kV Hampton-Rochester-LaCrosse line was the close of business March 7.

As of press time, more than 170 individuals and organizations had filed nearly 200 comments with the PSCW, expressing their opinions about the proposed line.

Comments ranged from brief statements including “I am against the behemoth transmission line that is being proposed. Short and sweet.” to 1,600-word statements expressing concerns about reduced property value, impact on the area’s scenic views, and potential health effects of electromagnetic fields.

Others questioned the overall need for the line, while still others objected to Wisconsin ratepayers paying an estimated $200 million for the Wisconsin portion of the line, which they perceive provides them with no real benefit, according to the comments.

Several commenters supported specific routes, with many favoring the proposed Q1 route that would partially use existing right-of-way.

Numerous entries suggested placing the line underground, an option not being considered by the line’s applicants, save for an underground crossing of the Mississippi River.

Xcel Energy (NYSE:XEL) d/b/a Northern States Power, Dairyland Power Cooperative, and Wisconsin Public Power are seeking the PSCW’s approval to construct the line, which would be approximately 40 to 55 miles long depending on the final route selected. CapX2020 says the project would upgrade an outdated system, meet future demand and deliver alternative energy.

Cost of placing lines underground can be prohibitive as indicated by testimony provided by a CapX2020 project manager at a PSCW technical hearing March 6, which stated the underground crossing of the Mississippi would cost $90m. Other testimony in the case estimated that the cost of  undergrounding the line at $20m per mile compared to $2m per mile for aboveground lines.

A few comments supported the proposed project. “The need is great and the cures are few. We either build bigger lines or create more smaller generation units in more communities,” said one commenter who warned of a return “to the early 50s when most of the rural areas had their own batteries for their power usage” if the line is not built.

Technical hearings underway in Madison, Wisc., will conclude later this week. CapX2020 expects final approval of the Minnesota route by April and a final ruling from the PSCW is expected on or before June 4, according to the CapX2020 web site. The utilities say the line could be in operation by 2015.

Members of the public will have their final opportunity to state their positions when the PSCW holds hearings March 13 and 14.