Milwaukee County Executive supports undergrounding new power lines

Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele has spoken out in support of the recent recommendation by We Energies’ CEO and two local officials that a new 138-kV power line proposed as part of the Western Milwaukee County Electric Reliability Project be buried (Docket No. 5-CE-139).

In a letter received by the Public Service Commission of Wisconsin (PSC) Sept. 17, Abele urged the PSC to “give serious consideration” to comments made by We Energies’ President and CEO Gale Klappa.

Klappa, Milwaukee’s mayor, and an alderman co-signed a July 30 letter supporting an underground alignment for the proposed north-south 138-kV power line that would serve the rapidly growing County Grounds area of Wauwatosa. The area is home to the Milwaukee Regional Medical Center.

“We Energies has evaluated three potential underground routes east of Hwy. 45 for the proposed new power line,” Klappa’s letter said. “We Energies believes that these three routes are feasible from an engineering perspective, are cost-effective underground solutions for this highly urbanized area, are reasonable alternatives for the commission to consider and recommends that one of these routes be selected for the proposed 138-kV power line.”

“I am confident that our designers would be able to work with your team to find a location that would be mutually acceptable to all parties,” Klappa’s letter said.

The Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce also supported the underground alignment in a separate letter received by the PSC Sept. 17.

“The need for power in this particular area … is very real and these transmission lines will help open the door for future economic growth in our region,” association vice president Steve Baas wrote.

“Providing increased transmission capacity … will not only benefit healthcare in the area, but also provide the necessary power for potential future business development,” Baas continued, noting that placing the line underground “would provide these economic benefits in the least disruptive way.”

Local residents, citizens’ groups, and civic leaders have been vocal about undergrounding both lines. However, Klappa’s letter addressed only the north-south line. The utility does not have a recommendation on the east-west line, and none is contemplated, We Energies told TransmissionHub previously.

The east-west line would extend from a new Milwaukee County substation to existing ATC lines less than two miles to the west. Two routes are proposed. Route A is the Walnut Road alignment, while Route B follows Watertown Plank Road and Underwood Creek Parkway.

State regulators are expected to hold hearings on the project in November and decide early next year whether the lines are needed. The PSCW would then select routes for the two lines and decide whether they should be built underground.

The PSC will determine the final routes for the two lines. 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 at $20m to $40m.

We Energies is a subsidiary of Wisconsin Energy (NYSE:WEC).