Judge Sides With Citizens Groups in Utility Attempt to Strike Public Comments

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Judge Sides With Citizens Groups in Utility Attempt to Strike Public Comments

March 3, 2015: The Wisconsin Public Service Commission will be able to consider public comments on the proposed Badger Coulee regional high-voltage transmission project under a judge’s action Monday overruling utilities’ objections. PSC Administrative Law Judge Michael Newman denied all motions by applicant utilities to strike portions of reply briefs filed on behalf of Citizens Energy Task Force (CETF) and Save Our Unique Lands (SOUL). The reply briefs are final arguments filed in opposition to the utilities’ application.

“The utilities tried to exclude public comments and a summary of these comments that shows overwhelming opposition to the line and a desire to see alternatives evaluated,” said Marcel Olivera, legal counsel for CETF/SOUL. “The Judge’s affirming the rights of the public to be heard is a victory for the thousands of citizens, communities and businesses that have been asking for information and analysis for years but feel they’ve been ignored.”

According to Olivera, applicant utilities had also filed a Motion to Strike portions of CETF and SOUL’s initial briefs or arguments including public comments expressing concern for health, reliability and security risks that were ignored in both the Environmental Impact Statement and application. The judge allowed the majority of the comments to remain, after asking for clarification and further citations.

Applicant utilities claim they exercised substantial diligence in reaching out to the public to hear and address their concerns. If this was the case, CETF and SOUL asked, how can they be unaware of issues brought to the attention of Applicants and the PSC and then try to get record of public conveyed concerns thrown out of the record?

Public comments cited conclusions from and to current yet unaddressed research that demonstrate health risks generally and beyond the right-of-way that utilities would purchase for the proposed transmission project. Comments and research were also provided demonstrating how local (distributed) generation could address reliability and national security risks associated with transmitting electrons from remote centralized generation to distant use centers.

Even if the public had not expressed concerns and cited research, CETF and SOUL said, it seems a company should keep abreast of health, environmental and national security risks associated with their product. Because of the Judge’s order, the majority of these will remain in the record so the Commission may consider them.

The judge also allowed the record to show the calculation of average monthly Wisconsin ratepayer benefits derived from utility projected energy savings. According to the CETF brief, the net present value amounts to between 1.5 and 3 cents. This range includes growth rates higher than the PSC determined as reasonable and does not account for any costs the public will bear such as decreases in property value.

The $540-580 million Badger Coulee high-voltage transmission line is being proposed by ATC and Xcel Energy. If approved, Badger Coulee would plug into CapX2020 facilities, which span from the Dakotas and end in the La Crosse, Wisconsin area. From there, the line would extend to Madison to enable increased capacity to transfer wind and fossil fuel based energy to markets south and east of Wisconsin.

Opponents offered testimony in the case showing how increased transfer capacity causes avoidable reliability issues, and how solar and local wind provide economic advantages over high voltage transmission expansion. The lack of utility analysis of alternative solutions or any guarantee that ratepayers would save money were cited in briefs filed by SOUL and CETF as not in line with statutory criteria to approve a line not in the public interest.

For more information contact: Deb Severson; deb@whispirit.com or Rob Danielson; type@mwt.net
608.269.6218 or 305.299.1400 (mobile) 608.625.4949

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Care2 Petition Active

CETF and SOUL have collaborated on circulating a petition to raise awareness of the need to consider alternatives to transmission lines for energy management.

With the Wisconsin PSC weighing the application for the Badger-Coulee transmission line, this petition has an immediate need. However, there are many long term economic, health, and environmental considerations, as well.

Please consider signing this petition. Thank you.

Stop Utilities from Investing Our Money in Obsolete Systems that Protect Their Profits

Badger Coulee Transmission Line Draws National Attention

by Deb Severson, Citizens Energy Task Force

The Center for Biodiversity, a national organization dedicated to protecting endangered species and wild lands, had learned of regional transmission expansion impacting Wisconsin after the deadline to intervene. The Center used the public comment opportunity to share concerns regarding deficiencies in the Public Service Commission’s Environmental Impact Statement.

The project cannot meet requirements under Wisconsin laws requiring PSC-approved facilities not have undue adverse impact on environmental values including ecological balance, public health and welfare, historic sites, geological formations, aesthetics of land and water, and recreational use, staff attorney April Rose Sommer said in the Center’s comment.

Construction and operation of the Badger Coulee line would result in the death of protected bird species, clear-cutting thousands of acres of unique and fragile habitat including wetlands and forests, impact hundreds of waterway, and have ongoing adverse impacts on wildlife and wildlands and the people who enjoy them, she said.

The PSC’s Environmental Impact Statement on the Badger Coulee fails to evaluate the effects of the proposed project and alternatives as required by Wisconsin law, Sommer wrote, contending either the PSC, Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources or applicant had time to conduct the required studies. Failure to accurately describe the project or affected environment violates the Wisconsin Environmental Policy Act (WEPA) and deprives the public of the right to make meaningful comment on the project, she said.

The proposal will have a “tragic affect on Wisconsin`s birds,” especially its eagles and cranes, Sommer predicted. Singling out “the plan to sandwich the Holland Sand Prairie State Natural Area, the largest remaining grassland bird habitat in this region, between two transmission lines; to construct a crane and waterfowl death trap in between the foraging and rousting grounds of Leopold-Pine Island IBA; and to run the line through the Kickapoo-Wildcat IBA, home to 25 percent of Wisconsin`s over-wintering golden eagle population,” she said “these will have a devastating and permanent impact on the state`s birds and runs afoul of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and the Bald Eagle Protection Act.”

Though noting that the project applicants belong to the Avian Power Line Interaction Committee (APLIC), Sommer said they have “demonstrated an abject disregard for avian protection,” concluding “the project should not be approved based on the certainty of high level of bird death by collision and electrocutions.”

The EIS also doesn’t tell the total acres that will be clear-cut, in violation of WEPA, or describe herbicide application in right-of-ways, the center’s comment says.

“It is unclear,” Sommer said, “why the PSC has expended significant resources on processing an application for a project that, by its own terms, is impossible as described.”

ATC Confirms No Guaranteed Ratepayer Savings with Transmission Expansion

January 11, 2015 American Transmission Company witnesses admitted during technical hearings last week at the Wisconsin Public Service Commission (PSC) that they could not guarantee ratepayers’ bills will decrease if the proposed Badger Coulee regional high-voltage transmission line is built. Ratepayer advocacy groups SOUL of Wisconsin and Citizens Energy Task Force have been critical of the economic benefits claimed based on this, and the lack of comparison to no-wire alternatives.

Witnesses from applicant American Transmission Company (ATC) and the Midwest regional grid operator (MISO) said if and how cost savings in the purchase of wholesale energy would be passed to ratepayers would be determined by distribution utilities. Both organizations conveyed they didn’t break down numbers to that level and could only produce totals.

Terry Henn, ATC project manager in charge of Badger Coulee, confirmed that, while the application defines economic benefits as the savings in cost of electricity for Wisconsin, Applicants could not guarantee savings to the ratepayers. According to Henn, “The savings of the project are to our interconnected utilities. How they pass those savings on to the ratepayers is … within their tariff and pay structures and things of that nature…” Henn also confirmed that the application doesn’t identify profits to the applicants.

Testimony by Dale Burmester, ATC’s Manager of Economic Planning, and Xcel Energy’s Amanda King-Huffman demonstrated the Badger Coulee line’s dependency on future projects, and their costs. Badger Coulee’s projections, since 2005, have assumed CapX2020 was in place, Burmester said. The Hampton-Rochester-La Crosse CapX2020 segment was approved by the PSC in May 2012.

Burmester had previously testified that Badger Coulee would be less expensive for Wisconsin ratepayers than the Low Voltage Alternative because Badger Coulee costs would be shared with other states. During the hearing, he confirmed that, in addition to Badger Coulee, Wisconsin ratepayers would also share in costs for other “Multi Value Projects” (MVPs). King-Huffman recalled how Badger Coulee and subsequent MVP projects had been discussed during the 2012 CapX2020 Wisconsin review process, but that their costs were not. King- Huffman also conveyed how this portion of CapX2020, whose costs are primarily paid by Wisconsin ratepayers, is not an MVP portfolio project.

King-Huffman testified that Badger Coulee would not be needed for local reliability in the La Crosse area until 2055 using a load growth of 1.2%. She also confirmed that Xcel did not compare costs and benefits for alternatives for the La Crosse area, she said.

Testimony submitted on behalf of Citizen’s Energy Task Force and SOUL of Wisconsin by engineer Bill Powers demonstrated how the no-wires alternatives of demand response, energy efficiency and distributed generation were less costly solutions to address reliability. Responding to ATC’s Burmester testimony that reliability issues that could occur due to bulk power transfer, Powers explained how there would be no reliability issue if there were no increases in power flow from west to east and that relying on all this imported power was compromising Wisconsin’s transmission system.

Powers also pointed out that wind generation did not match energy use patterns as well as solar, and that increases in fossil fuel based electrons, including lignite coal, would increase as transfer capacity increased. The impact of this was evident in discussions of how five of six scenarios presented by applicants showed increases in carbon emissions.

Henn and other ATC witnesses acknowledged that ATC received requests for a cost/benefit comparison between the high voltage transmission option with alternatives prior to submission of the application. He said ATC took no further action based on them, contending ATC had already done the analysis.

Henn acknowledged perceptions regarding losses in property values, tourism and business, and health and safety concerns but said ATC did not study them because only costs that will come out of the pocket of the project owners are included in cost calculations. This would include payments to affected communities and to landowners to acquire right-of-way easements but not for decreases in property value or the cost of measures to cope with negative impacts of the line such as relocating livestock.

Attorneys for the applicants claimed to have taken damage to the Amish culture into account, but did not provide evidence of doing so. Asked if they have budgeted for possible relocations of Amish families, Henn said he did not believe the company has budgeted for any relocations for those who would move to avoid the line. ATC’s real estate manager conveyed lack of awareness that one of the proposed routes would cross an Amish community, even after driving the route through the state’s largest Amish community outside of Cashton.

In November 2013, the PSC informed applicants that their discussion of the high voltage transmission option and alternatives did not provide a comprehensive summary that would allow the public to better understand the need for the proposed project. Based on this, the PSC asked Applicants revise and expand the application to include a comprehensive discussion of need and alternatives. Concerns were raised during both the technical and public hearings that these requests by the PSC, citizens, municipalities and legislators have not been adequately addressed.

PSC Commissioner Eric Callisto, who did not participate in the public hearings because his term is set to expire in February, objected to a December rate case decision, conveying, “I think we should slow down…and open up a generic investigation…[to] evaluate placing a fair and transparent value on distributed generation, and at least start down the discussion path of the role of regulated utilities in a future with flat load growth, increased distributed generation and more robust consumer involvement in energy choices.”

Questions regarding the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) closed the technical hearings. PSC staff recalled citations on health risks not considered in the EIS, with health risks related to corona not included. Applicants also acknowledged not taking this into account. PSC staff admitted that studies on socio-economic impacts were not completed, and that there will be negative impacts with a project of this magnitude.

Over 2,000 comments on the draft and final EIS were received. Well over 90 percent were critical, and the call to comprehensively compare the costs and benefits of the proposed project to alternatives was strong.

Parties involved in the hearings will provide closing arguments by January 30. A decision matrix will follow, and a decision is anticipated by March or April of this year.

For more information contact: Deb Severson; deb@whispirit.com or Rob Danielson; type@mwt.net

Expert Testimony Shows Badger Coulee is a Bad Deal for Wisconsin Citizens and Communities

On November 14, 2014, engineers filed testimony on behalf of Citizens Energy Task Force (CETF) and Save Our Unique Lands (SOUL) showing why the proposed Badger Coulee regional high-voltage transmission line is not needed. The testimony also demonstrated clearly how energy policy alternatives better save ratepayers money and how the data being used and policies being forwarded by applicant utilities would overstate project need.

CETF and SOUL retained the services of engineers Peter Lanzalotta and Bill Powers to represent ratepayers in their legal intervention against the Badger Coulee application, which is currently before the Wisconsin Public Service Commission (PSC). Lanzalotta is an expert in planning and operation of electric utility systems, with more than 30 years experience as both an employee of and consultant to a privately- and publicly-owned electric utilities, and a degree in Electric Power Engineering and a Masters in Business Administration. In his testimony, Lanzalotta concluded, “…there is little current reliability need for Badger-Coulee that cannot be
addressed by reinforcements to lower voltage transmission facilities, and this minimal need is greatly
reduced by the current and projected lack of load growth.”

Lanzalotta challenged the lack of analysis at lower or no load growth conditions, saying “It is not possible to say what levels of benefits, if any, would be likely under zero or negative load growth scenarios. It is possible to say that the reliability benefits from Badger-Coulee, compared to a low voltage alternative, would be minimized under no growth or negative growth conditions … Under these conditions, I do not believe that approval of the Badger-Coulee project is warranted.”

Bill Powers, an energy and environmental engineer with more than 30 years experience in power plant operations and environmental engineering, provided testimony and analysis that supported Lanzalotta’s conclusions and pointed to more cost-effective energy policies. According to Powers’ analysis, load management is the most cost-effective resource to offset peak demand with potential to expand the use of this tool in Wisconsin. Load management, such as turning an air conditioning off for fifteen minutes, can be
used by utilities to reduce peak demand spikes and avoid infrastructure that would otherwise be needed to serve the very limited times this occurs.

Noting that applicants ATC and Xcel convey high growth in the          La Crosse area Powers provided focus and perspective, testifying, “Actual peak load growth in the La Crosse/Winona area is modest, less than 0.5 percent per year, if no available load management is deployed by DPCW (Dairyland Power Cooperative) or NSPW (Xcel). If available (load management) had been deployed to offset peak demand, the actual demand trend would be slightly negative. (However) Neither DPCW nor NSPW deployed any (load management) to offset their respective 2013 peak loads.”

Powers also testified that Applicants overstate the economic benefits of (centralized) wind power and the role of transmission constraints in restricting wind development, and ignore the economic competitiveness of solar power with wind power and the better match of solar output with summer peak demand.
“Regional transmission’s protection of centralized utilities, when combined with policies that suppress alternatives, unfairly limits free market choice,” said Debra Severson of CETF. “Wisconsin energy decisions should benefit the public, not special interests, and now we’ve got energy and transmission engineers backing us up.”

When asked about the additional transmission being planned in Wisconsin and if the Badger Coulee decision could be a particularly pivotal energy decision for the state, Lanzalotta said, “I think it is reasonable to infer that the decision will be unusually influential. Given the slow and/or negative growth conditions, and the
rising interest in distributed solar and accelerated energy efficiency, should the ratepayers and the PSC not be ready to move forward with full confidence, a wise investor would probably pause at least a few years to see which trends truly develop.”

Wisconsin has the legal right to assess need and deny approval if in-state ratepayer benefits are not proportionate to Wisconsin ratepayers’ costs or if other solutions better serve state ratepayers. Wisconsin statutes also give priority to energy conservation, efficiency and renewable generation such that if the PSC finds any or a combination of these options constitute a cost effective and technically feasible alternative, the PSC must reject all of or a portion of the project. CETF and SOUL, with the support of the engineers, are committed to ensuring the spirit of state energy policy is followed. Public hearings to comment on the Badger Coulee Environmental Impact Statement are scheduled for December 8-15. Technical hearings will be held … and provide the public another chance to make legal comments regarding the application.

For more information contact: Deb Severson at deb@whispirit.com
608.269.6218 or 305.299.1400 (mobile)

To read the expert testimony, click on the two links below.

Peter Lanzalotta

Bill Powers

EIS COMMENTS OPPOSE TRANSMISSION OPTION

The Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) provides a chart summarizing 174 individual comments received about the draft version.

  • 122 of 174 comments or 70% generally oppose the high voltage transmission option on basis of need and energy direction in the state.
  • 11 instruct the agency to conduct further study of non-transmission options.
  • 10 foreground environmental or cultural concerns.
  • 14 individuals state route preference.
  • 3 generally support high voltage transmission option.
  • 1400 residents from city of Onalaska filed signed copies of a form letter opposing Segment O stating concerns about negative impacts on residential and commercial development, EMF, noise, loss of property value, loss of business and tourism income and potential conflicts with the La Crosse Municipal Airport.

Citizen, Municipal, and Legislator Requests Ignored in Badger Coulee Transmission Line Environmental Impact Statement

November 6, 2014    The final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) on the proposed Badger Coulee regional high-voltage transmission line leaves significant questions unaddressed and continues to skirt important issues, according to Citizens Energy Task Force (CETF) and Save Our Unique Lands (SOUL of Wisconsn).

In the document released Nov. 5, the PSC says need for the proposed Badger Coulee project has yet to be determined.  Applicant testimony conveys the primary need for Badger Coulee is to deliver economic benefits, but SOUL and CETF say the EIS fails to analyze who profits and by how much or to tally all economic and environmental costs that would be borne by Wisconsin citizens.

According to CETF and SOUL, there is cause to pause.  With only potential slim savings and expansion planning with no focus on net carbon emission reduction, the groups ask if it’s worth the risks to our environment and our health.   “Regional transmission protects centralized utilities which, when combined with policies that suppress alternatives, unfairly limits free market choice,” said Debra Severson of CETF.  “Wisconsin energy decisions should benefit the public, not special interests.”

Negative economic impacts on tourism, land use and property values have not been captured in the financial analysis and the PSC admits  it lacks the data to do so, “ said Rob Danielson of SOUL. “One has to question such a review process.”   Similarly, positive economic and environmental impacts of non-transmission alternatives, such as energy efficiency and local renewables, were not compared to the high voltage option.

Wisconsin has the legal right to assess need and deny approval if in-state ratepayer benefits are not proportionate to Wisconsin ratepayers’ costs or if other solutions better serve us.  Without capturing all costs, benefits and risks, the groups say, an accurate assessment is impossible and the PSC cannot fulfill this obligation.

Wisconsin legal statutes give priority to energy conservation, efficiency and renewable generation.  Decision criteria states that if the PSC finds any of these options, or a combination of them, constitute a cost effective and technically feasible alternative, the PSC must reject all of or a portion of the project.   Despite this, the EIS fails to compare the reliability, cost, carbon reduction and job creation benefits of alternate solutions.

“More than 2,000 citizens, 90 municipalities and 12 legislators have asked the PSC for a complete, unbiased analysis comparing alternatives to building the high voltage transmission option,” said Danielson.  “These requests continue to go unanswered despite statutes that recommend description of alternatives in time for ratepayer input in the EIS.”

The applicants claim Badger Coulee will deliver public policy benefits related to renewables, but the EIS fails to report in-state benefits or to compare the benefits to alternate policy directions.   In addition, it does not consider the public policy benefits of avoiding environmental and health risks with non-transmission alternatives, fails to assess the health and migratory impacts of corona induced UV and ionizing radiation, and does not address likely irreversible damage that will linger despite remediation efforts.

While not yet addressed in the final EIS, the groups will continue to ask the PSC to assess inherent reliability risks and costs associated with maintaining a centralized grid, and to evaluate if transmission planning and utility policies are suppressing technologies in a monopolistic manner that does not serve the best interests of Wisconsin citizens, communities and businesses.

Public hearings to comment on the EIS and other considerations are scheduled for December 8-15. [See  data breakout on next page.]

The Utilities Quiet Control of Decentralized Power Technologies

From The Power Line  a blog hosted by Bill Howley

Scott Sklar is one of the most expert of US experts on decentralized power.  Here is a very informative article he posted recently on Renewable Energy World.  Mr. Sklar takes apart power company claims that by using modern decentralized power technologies, small scale electricity producers are getting a free ride from consumers stuck in the clutches of obsolete generation and distribution.

This is a must read for anyone wanting to know “the rest of the story.”  To read The Power Line blog, take a look here.

Just a note: Bill Howley is an avid blogger on energy issues.

Wisconsin Electric’s War on Solar: A Case Study

In Wisconsin, WE Energies has proposed rate changes to the state’s Public Service Commission (PSC) that will increase monthly facilities fees on all customers and add crushing tariffs to those who produce grid-tied renewable energy. Their latest attempt to gain support for their proposals was contained in a brochure that went out to all of their customers with this month’s billing (“Learn about Our 2015-16 Rate Request”). In short, it contains information that is simply not true in order to demonize solar customers as unfair moochers. How do I know it’s not true? We are having a grid-tied solar array installed this week, and I know exactly what it will cost us to use the grid. The truth needs to get out before the PSC hearings in Madison on September 24 and Milwaukee on October 8. Follow me below the jump and tell all of your friends in Wisconsin the truth!

Read more here.

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Energy Efficiency Drives a Changing Energy Paradigm

The Courant (Hartford Connecticut) Sep 11, 2014

Efficiency, Renewables Cut Away At Growth In New England Electricity Use

http://www.courant.com/business/hc-iso-new-england-energy-forecast-0912-20140911,0,2934000.story

BOSTON — Efficiency efforts throughout New England are expected in the next decade to offset most of the increase in demand for electricity, officials with the region’s electric grid said Thursday.

More distributed generation in the form of solar installations also will cut away at the amount of power needed from the region’s largely natural-gas-fired power plants.

ISO New England, the nonprofit group that runs the region’s wholesale power markets and operates the power grid, said Thursday that electricity use would be 129,000 megawatt hours in 2014, growing only slightly to 130,500 megawatt hours in 2023.

The report’s projections take a general stab at outlining how demand for electricity measures up to what’s available through the region’s power plants, a forecast that has increased in importance after a number of large, important power plants announced they would be closing down in the next few years.

“The message is much different this year: We are short on resources,” Michael I. Henderson, the grid’s director of regional planning and cooperation, told a Boston conference room full of state officials, energy advocates and representatives of the power industry. “With retirements coming we’re facing additional challenges.”

The fear is that the region is getting closer and closer to being over-reliant on natural gas, if it hasn’t crossed that line already.

While that shift has resulted in much lower power prices for residents and businesses, higher demand for the fuel has not been met with booming construction of more pipelines to get it here. The outcome: New England has paid serious premiums for the fuel in the past few winters because of competition between power plants and the gas distribution companies that feed homes and businesses.

While the 2014 Regional System Plan released in draft form Thursday gave a nod to the seriousness of the gas issue, it doesn’t offer a clear long-term solution. For the short term, ISO New England has received federal approval for a program of stop-gap measures to get the region through another winter that is likely to prove tough for the electric grid.

The winter reliability program provides a financial incentive for power plants to stockpile oil or to arrange for deliveries of natural gas ahead of time. It also provides additional incentives for large users of power to turn off or ratchet down their usage during times when the system is especially constrained.

For the first time, the regional plan showed a projection of distributed electric generation projects, which are large solar arrays. According to the group’s analysis, New England had 500 megawatts of solar last year, which will grow to 1,800 megawatts in a decade. Connecticut’s share of that is the second largest of any state in the region, behind Massachusetts, with 345.4 megawatts in 2023.

… for a sustainable energy future