Written comments on the final environmental impact statement (EIS) regarding American Transmission Company’s (ATC) proposed Mount Pleasant Tech Interconnection Project will be accepted until June 21, according to the final EIS document prepared jointly by the Public Service Commission of Wisconsin and Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR).
The document noted that the commission will consider the final EIS when it makes its final decision on the project, with that decision expected in August. A public hearing for the project will be held on June 21, and if necessary, DNR will hold separate hearings on its water permits or other DNR regulatory actions discussed in the final EIS, the document noted.
ATC in late January filed with the commission an application for a certificate of public convenience and necessity (CPCN), seeking authority to build the new 345/138-kV Mount Pleasant substation in the village of Mount Pleasant in Racine County, and to build 345-kV transmission lines to interconnect with ATC’s existing 345-kV transmission network.
The project includes installation of new 138-kV underground cables from the new Mount Pleasant substation to a proposed new substation that would be owned by Foxconn Technology Group (Foxconn), the final EIS said, adding that the Foxconn substation construction is not part of the proposed project.
ATC would build two new double-circuit 345kV transmission lines that would run east from the new Mount Pleasant substation to existing Line PLPL101 in the village of Mount Pleasant. The final EIS added that a new 345-kV circuit would be strung on the vacant east side of existing Line PLPL101, beginning at the existing Racine substation in the city of Racine, and extending about 12 miles south to the existing Pleasant Prairie switchyard in the village of Pleasant Prairie.
The existing Bain to Pleasant Prairie line (Line PLPL91) would be rerouted in the village of Pleasant Prairie entirely on Wisconsin Electric Power Company (WEPCO, doing business as We Energies) property. The final EIS also noted that two structures would be modified/replaced in order to uprate the existing Racine to Elm Road line (Line L-ERG91) in the village of Caledonia and the city of Racine, and two structures would be relocated/replaced as part of the Racine substation expansion in the city of Racine.
The majority of the new structures that make up the proposed project would be double-circuit steel monopole structures, both in areas of new right of way (ROW), and where structures would be replaced on Segment 2, the final EIS said. Structure heights would vary from 100 feet to 160 feet in above-ground height depending on the segment and site requirements. ROW width would also vary by segment, from 100 feet wide on Segment 3, to a total ROW width of 320 feet on Segment 4 or 5 to accommodate for two double-circuit structures parallel to each other, the final EIS said.
The project is estimated to cost between $117m and $120m based on the route selected, the final EIS said, adding that much of the project has common route corridors, as work would occur either on existing transmission lines and structures, or on property owned by ATC or WEPCO.
Two new segments (Segment 4 or Segment 5) are proposed as the option to connect the existing PLPL101 line to the proposed new Mount Pleasant substation. The final EIS also said that ATC provides in its application a “preferred” project route, which would include Segment 4, referred to in the final EIS as the proposed project route, and an alternative project route, which would include Segment 5. Depending on the route selected, the total transmission line distance would be either 15.3 miles in length for the proposed project route or 15.5 miles in length for the alternative project route, with both routes requiring the same work at substations, the final EIS said.
The primary stated need for the project is the new development proposed by Foxconn, the final EIS said, adding that the Wisconsin State Legislature last September authorized the state to create an Electronics and Information Technology Manufacturing Zone. In October 2017, the village of Mount Pleasant was announced as the location for that technology manufacturing zone, where Foxconn would build and operate a manufacturing space for production of liquid crystal display panels, the final EIS said.
According to ATC’s application, the Foxconn facility has an initial electric load estimate of 200 MW. The final EIS added that WEPCO’s Load Interconnection Request Form (LIRF) to ATC is for 230 MW due to an expectation that other commercial or residential load growth in the area could occur. ATC developed the proposed project in order to meet the needs of that customer and the expected increase in load in the wider project area, the final EIS noted.
Discussing potential environmental impacts, the final EIS said that overall, the land cover in the wider project area is primarily agricultural or urban land use, with high developmental pressure and relatively limited areas of high quality natural habitats, particularly on the project routes. Both project routes are made up of a slight majority of agricultural land at 56% of land cover for the proposed project route and 58% of land cover for the alternative project route. The final EIS added that if appropriate construction and restoration methods are employed, most, if not all, of the impacts on agricultural lands should be temporary in nature.
The existence of infrastructure, such as the existing PLPL101 345 kV line, Racine substation, and area around the Pleasant Prairie Power Plant results in many common route segments using those areas already impacted by transmission lines and substations, the final EIS said. Utilizing those existing corridors instead of entirely new corridors for the majority of the proposed project and alternative project routes reduces new impacts to other landowners and residences, the final EIS noted.
Very generally, the proposed project route – including Segment 4 – would impact about 351 acres, of which 46 acres would be in wetlands and 195 acres would be in agricultural lands, the final EIS said. The alternative project route – including Segment 5 – would impact about 359 acres, of which 44 acres would be in wetlands and 206 acres would be in agricultural lands, the final EIS said. Both routes use relatively high amounts of shared ROW at 74% for the proposed project route, and 73% percent for the alternative project route.
The final EIS also said that impacts that may occur as a result of construction include:
- The risk of soil compaction in agricultural lands or wetlands
- Potential introduction of invasive species or pests to areas where those do not exist. The final EIS noted, for instance, that the entire project area is within Kenosha and Racine counties, and plant pests that could affect trees and forestry operations such as Oak wilt, Emerald ash borer, and Gypsy moths, are found in those counties. ATC states that standard practices to reduce the spread of those plant pests would be used if oak or ash trees are anticipated to be impacted by tree clearing operations. That includes avoiding impacts to oak trees from April 1-July 15, and following guidelines to avoid spreading emerald ash borer and gypsy moths by leaving cut vegetation on site when possible
- Disturbance or take of rare species. The final EIS noted, for instance, that the area of the Racine substation expansion is already impacted with existing hard surfaces or highly disturbed ground, and the proposed activities would be covered by the Broad Incidental Take Authorization for No/Low Impact Activities. No impacts to rare species would be expected at that site
- Visual changes to the landscape by installing more high voltage transmission lines and substations
- Impacts to such other existing infrastructure as railroads, highways, and gas pipelines as a result of construction or ongoing operation of the transmission lines
Many of those impacts could be avoided or mitigated by the use of appropriate best management practices (BMP), communication with landowners prior to the commencement of work, or recommended actions to avoid impacts to rare species, the final EIS said. Those mitigation actions are commonly used on transmission line and substation construction projects to reduce the impacts to communities and the natural environment, according to the final EIS.