CapX2020 opponents harbor concerns about Wisconsin PSC approval

Officials at environmental group Clean Wisconsin, which had officially opposed the CapX2020 Alma – La Crosse line, say they are disappointed the line won preliminary approval from the Wisconsin Public Service Commission (PSC), but remain hopeful the line’s environmental impacts will be held to a minimum.

“We entered this case, not to argue the need for the line, but on purely environmental issues,” the group’s general counsel, Katie Nekola, told TransmissionHub shortly after the May 10 approval.

The Alma-La Crosse project is part of the larger Hampton-Rochester-La Crosse Capx2020 project, which is planned to extend from the Twin Cities area of Minnesota to La Crosse, Wis. The PSC on May 10 unanimously approved the Alma-La Crosse portion of the line.

“We did think that there wasn’t enough information in the record about all the potential environmental impacts of all the line routes. We felt it needed much more evaluation, especially because it’s a really sensitive area of the state environmentally,” she said.

Although the group’s primary concern was not about the need for the line, Nekola said the group agreed with the Citizens Utility Board’s position that a 345-kV line was more than was needed to meet forecast load growth.

“I think [the need for a 345-kV line is] an open question even though the commission did choose to approve [it]. I still think it’s worth keeping an eye on it and watching to see what happens going forward,” she said. 

Nekola did see some positive aspects to the PSC’s discussion and the line’s ultimate approval, including that the PSC chose a route that avoided the Van Loon wetland complex and the Black River Bottoms, which Clean Wisconsin had recommended.  

“We’ll take a look at the modifications of the Q1-Galesville route that was proposed [and approved] just to continue to monitor the situation,” Nekola added.

Clean Wisconsin found especially satisfying the PSC’s unanimous approval of an independent environmental monitor (IEM) to monitor construction activities and report to the PSC, even though the line’s applicants opposed an IEM.

“We thought it was sort of a minimum requirement because the utility clearly didn’t want that, and they didn’t want the IEM to have the authority to stop work if they saw some problems,” Nekola said.

“[It] just seems basic that you need to have somebody in there who can keep an eye on things, because we did have some concerns about construction impacts. It’s still going to be going through some wetlands and some sensitive areas even though it’s avoiding the Van Loon, so somebody needs to be watching,” she said.

In addition to the IEM, Nekola said Clean Wisconsin will be watching, too.

The PSC’s final approval is expected at its May 30 open meeting.

According to TransmissionHub data, the Hampton-Rochester-La Crosse project involves about 125 miles of 345-kV transmission line and about 15 to 18 miles of 161-kV line. 

CapX2020 is a joint initiative of 11 transmission-owning utilities in Minnesota and the surrounding region to expand the electric transmission grid to ensure continued reliable and affordable service.