Diminished property values among concerns for two 138-kV lines

With three weeks remaining until the end of the public comment period for the environmental assessment (EA) being conducted for the Western Milwaukee County Electric Reliability Project, few comments submitted to the Public Utility Commission of Wisconsin (PSC) have directly addressed the topic at hand (Docket No. 5-CE-139).

The comment period that opened on April 5 and closes on June 1 pertains specifically to the EA, which is underway, but most of the comments submitted call for an underground alignment of the project’s two 138-kV lines.

Each project considered by the PSC will have at least two, and perhaps three, separate comment periods, a PSC spokesperson told TransmissionHub on May 14. At present, because of the length and voltage of the lines, it appears that the Western Milwaukee County Electric Reliability Project could be considered a “tier 2” project, which does not require an environmental impact statement (EIS). However, that is something the EA will determine, the spokesperson added.

If an EIS is required, a separate comment period will be established for the EIS.

The project, proposed by We Energies and the American Transmission Company (ATC) consists of the two 138-kV lines, each less than two miles long, which are needed to improve the reliability of the electric system that serves an area of the county that includes the Milwaukee Regional Medical Center and the Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin.

Demand in the area is expected to double as soon as 2016, ATC said in a statement.

If the EA determines that an EIS is not necessary, a comment period will be opened for the project itself.  “That’s the time for people to comment on things like alignment and other aspects of the project,” the spokesperson said.

At least two of the comments filed to date call upon the PSC to conduct a full EIS on the proposed project.

“I believe it is essential to provide detailed information on the subsequent impact to both the environment and the proximate community,” Milwaukee County Supervisor Gerry Broderick said in his May 4 letter to the PSC.

A family that lives on Underwood Parkway, a route that could be directly affected if an above-ground alignment is chosen by the PSC, also asked for a formal EIS, stating that the potential impacts to Underwood Creek warrant a more thorough examination.

Other comments addressed issues that could be construed as addressing the environmental assessment indirectly. One commenter claimed that the “strategic application of energy efficiency, renewable energy, and demand side management” measures could obviate the need for the lines. Others addressed the potential for diminished property values. The majority of comments called for the undergrounding of the two proposed 138-kV lines in the city of Wauwatosa, Wis.

It will be up to the PSC to determine the final routes for the two lines. ATC expects the PSC to take as long as a year to review the project application, hold public and technical hearings, and do a detailed analysis before rendering a decision.

The transmission lines and ATC substation facilities are planned to be placed in service by March 2015. The cost of the project is estimated at $20m to $40m.