ATC VP Mark Williamson: Power lines placed in public’s best interest
In response to Rob Zaleski’s Jan. 25 column, it’s time to consider facts and set the record straight about ATC and the work we do.
American Transmission Co. has an enormous responsibility — the responsibility to maintain a transmission system that keeps pace with an ever-increasing demand for electricity in Dane County and much of this state. We are heavily regulated by federal and state agencies, operate with full transparency and seek the input of the people we affect. We are proud of the work we do and the service we provide to the citizens of this state.
We don’t dodge challenging questions from the public. We don’t have hidden motives. And we certainly don’t dismiss the suggestions and alternatives offered by citizens and communities. To suggest otherwise as Zaleski has is just wrong. When you peel away the cynicism, what we do as a public utility is fairly simple and straightforward.
We have an obligation to ensure that the electric transmission system on which we all depend operates safely and reliably. For us to meet our obligations, we sometimes make unpopular decisions and we often need to say “no.” Such is the case with the Savannah Village neighborhood in Waunakee. The construction application we’ll submit to the PSC in early February will not include any plans to bury the transmission line along Wisconsin 113 near Savannah Village. Why? Because the cost of doing so cannot be justified. The one-mile segment in question of the proposed line runs along a state highway right-of-way and is more than 500 feet from the neighborhood. No viable reason exists to justify undergrounding the line.
Placing transmission lines underground causes substantially higher installation and repair costs, significant environmental disturbances, and the risk of lengthy repair times and line outages. In considering the cost of burying transmission lines, ATC has no financial motive, except to make responsible decisions in the interest of electricity consumers since the cost of transmission line projects are passed through to the end users of electricity. (In fact, our Federal Energy Regulatory Commission-approved rate structure is such that the more we invest in the transmission system, the more we earn, and the bigger the return to our utility investors.)
Some have suggested that the additional $4 million to bury the line near Savannah Village translates to only pennies per person in Dane County. Even if that’s true, ATC has to consider the potential cost of burying every project we will ever propose. Currently, there are plans for $3 billion worth of transmission infrastructure enhancements in much of Wisconsin and Michigan’s Upper Peninsula over the next decade. That $3 billion could easily swell to $25 billion to $30 billion of transmission work if we adopted a practice of burying every line.
If the people who pay the bills — including you and me — and the Public Service Commission all decide that that cost, environmental impacts and maintenance challenges are reasonable prices to pay for an underground system, we’ll make it happen.
The PSC has a responsibility to do what it can to keep electricity costs reasonable and solutions affordable. Installing structures with conductors suspended overhead remains the safer and more environmentally practical alternative for most situations.
* During the past year, we have listened to comments, concerns and suggestions by the Wire Safe Wisconsin group and the residents of Waunakee. We have responded to every question raised. We know a few people don’t like the answers we provide. But in the end, we propose projects to the PSC that are in the best interests of all the electricity users in the state that count on ATC for a reliable electric transmission system.
Mark Williamson is vice president for major projects for American Transmission Co.