UPDATE: Question of “who pays” delaying Wauwatosa project

The questions of “who pays” and “if” are delaying the proposed Western Milwaukee County Electric Reliability project as Wisconsin Electric Power Company d/b/a We Energies and Milwaukee County, Wis., negotiate over who will pay the clean-up costs at the site of a proposed substation if any clean-up is required.

“We Energies is interested in seeing what is underneath” the surface to determine if there are any issues, a Milwaukee County spokesperson told TransmissionHub July 18. However, the spokesperson said the utility wants the county to accept liability for any clean up that may be needed.

The county counters that it would be the utility’s digging that “would expose the environmental concerns, if there are any,” the spokesperson said, adding, “we can’t let them dig until there’s an agreement” about who will foot the bill.

The spokesperson said there is no indication of any significant environmental issue at the site adjacent to the existing Milwaukee County Substation and Milwaukee County Power Plant, but said, “Honestly, there’s no way to know until we dig, and there’s no reason [for the county] to dig.”

The transmission project consists of two 138-kV lines, each less than two miles long, which are needed to improve the reliability of the electric system that serves the rapidly growing County Grounds area of the county, according to the developers. The area includes the Milwaukee Regional Medical Center and the Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin. 

The latest details provide insight into what We Energies’ legal counsel Catherine Phillips called “an impasse” at a May 9 prehearing conference before Public Service Commission of Wisconsin (PSCW) Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) Michael Newmark.

Phillips told the hearing We Energies has an option on the parcel of property where it plans to build a proposed substation “and it’s an option we wish to exercise, but we’re having some difficulty getting access to that.”

Those details came to light when a transcript of the hearing was released July 13.

Prior to that publication, the only indication of a conflict was We Energies’s July 2 request that the July 13 deadline for filing direct testimony be pushed back 60 days. At that time, the company said it was “not prepared at this time to fully present our direct testimony as we continue our discussions with Milwaukee County regarding the proposed substation issue.”

We Energies’ request for a delay was granted on July 12.

The situation has not changed since the prehearing conference, a We Energies spokesperson told TransmissionHub on July 17, adding, “We have not accessed the land, but our discussions are continuing with the county for the possible purchase of that parcel.”

The PSC will determine the final routes for the two transmission lines. Project co-developer American Transmission Company (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 in service by March 2015. The cost of the project is estimated to fall between $20m to $40m.