Wisconsin commission finds no significant impact from proposed Wauwatosa lines

The Public Service Commission of Wisconsin (PSCW) has issued a preliminary finding that there would be no significant impact from the proposed Western Milwaukee County Electric Reliability Project (Docket No. 5-CE-139).

In its Oct. 5 letter announcing the results of its environmental assessment (EA), the PSCW said commission staff’s preliminary determination indicates that the project “would have some temporary and long-term social/community impacts, depending on the route selected, but no major effects on natural resources.”

In addition, the PSCW said, “Strategies to avoid or mitigate some of the temporary and long-term impacts are available and would be implemented if the project is approved.”

The project would consist of two new 138-kV power lines, each less than two miles long, and a new substation to serve the rapidly growing County Grounds area of Milwaukee County, which is home to the Milwaukee Regional Medical Center (MRMC).

“The MRMC includes a level 1 adult trauma center and a level 1 pediatric trauma center, which require a high level of electric reliability,” the PSCW said in its letter.

Project co-developer American Transmission Company (ATC) proposed four route options for a new north-south line that would link the 96th Street substation to the proposed new substation, and four route options for an east-west line that would connect an existing line to the new substation.

Some of the options would be completely overhead lines, others entirely underground, and some would include a combination of overhead conductors and underground cable, according to the PSCW.

The commission’s findings determined that all proposed east-west routes would result in the loss of wetlands from the Underwood Creek area, ranging from 0.77 acres to 0.92 acres of permanently cleared land, depending on the route selected. Route options also include the installation of either three or four structures within the wetlands area, which has been identified by the state Department of Natural Resources as a natural heritage inventory waterway.

The east-west routes would also result in the loss of between 2.2 acres and 5.6 acres of upland trees, depending on the alignment chosen.

All four east-west options, to varying degrees, would encroach on an area considered to be a primary environmental corridor by the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission, an area the PSCW described as “highly valued in the very urbanized Milwaukee metropolitan area.”

“A transmission line built in the corridor would tend to detract from its natural qualities, particularly where permanent tree clearing would be required,” the PSCW continued.

None of the east-west routes evaluated was entirely underground.

The north-south route options are either all or primarily located underground, a siting option strongly supported by a broad range of local residents, a nearby school and church, civic leaders, and the CEO of the project’s co-developer We Energies.

The Wisconsin Department of Transportation (WisDOT) is planning a multi-year expansion of Highway 45, a project that would enable a portion of the north-south line to be placed under roadway right-of-way (ROW).  ATC and WisDOT have indicated their intent to work cooperatively to enable placement of the transmission line in highway ROW, as needed, the PSCW noted.

“Construction beneath city streets, in [highway] ROW, and on Milwaukee County property would have little or no aesthetic impact once restoration was completed,” the PSCW said, though it did note one exception: the possible need to remove some city street trees in the median of 92nd St.

Comments on the preliminary determination are due at the PSCW by Oct. 19. Comments will be incorporated into a final version of the EA, which will be issued approximately a month after the close of the comment period, a PSCW spokesperson told TransmissionHub Oct. 9.

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. ATC has said previously it 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).