Wisconsin State Journal Editorial: Don’t Short Circuit Power Line Plan
Opponents of American Transmission Co. have thrown everything but the kitchen sink in the way of the utility’s plans to ensure that the Madison area continues to receive an adequate, reliable supply of electricity.
Now a group of opponents even wants to heave the sink.
The group, led by Dane County Sup. Kyle Richmond of Madison, wants the Legislative Audit Bureau to conduct a financial review and evaluation of ATC. And the group wants the Dane County Board to endorse the request.
The County Board and the Legislature’s Audit Committee should reject this grandstand play. It is an unnecessary and unproductive sideshow distracting from the issue at hand, which is whether and where to build a high-voltage power line around Madison to meet the growing demand for electricity.
The first problem with the request for a Legislative Audit Bureau review of ATC is that the bureau’s authority cannot reach ATC without a dangerous leap in logic.
The bureau works for the Legislature to review the operations of state agencies and entities closely tied to state government. ATC does not fit into any of those categories. Though a state law was needed to permit ATC to be created, it is a private company formed by five utilities to maintain and develop the electric transmission grid in the state.
Furthermore, ATC is subject to audits and other regulation by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and the state Public Service Commission. A legislative audit would be redundant.
Underlying the call for an audit is the opponents’ effort to put any barriers they can in front of ATC’s plans to upgrade the electric grid by adding a high-voltage power line.
Almost no one wants to live next to a high-voltage power line, so ATC’s plans are understandably controversial. However, the state maintains a rigorous process to evaluate the plans, with ample opportunity for opponents’ input.
The process begins with ATC’s job, which is to keep Wisconsin’s electric transmission grid maintained and up-to-date. Toward that end, the utility paid for an independent study, involving the Citizens Utility Board and environmental organizations. The study determined improvements are needed around Madison, including a high-voltage line between Rockdale, in southeast Dane County, and Middleton, west of Madison.
The line is also a step needed to eventually import green electricity, generated by wind power in Iowa, Minnesota and the Dakotas.
Next month ATC expects to make public its preferred route for the line, along with an alternative.
In October, the company is scheduled to apply to the PSC for permission to build the line. The PSC will then require ATC to make the case that the line is needed, and the PSC will offer opponents a chance to make their case.
That process should go forward without the needless barriers the opponents want to erect.
A debate about how best to upgrade the electric grid serving Dane County is no place for a kitchen sink.