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.

Wisconsin PSC combines SOUL and CETF for Intervenor Funds

By Bev Vaillancourt, CETF Board Member

As you may know, XCEL Energy and American Transmission Company (ATC)’s application for the Badger-Coulee line has been received by the Wisconsin PSC. Following that, SOUL and CETF separately applied to the Wisconsin PSC for intervenor funds to cover the cost of expert testimony as part of the application review process. Though together the request was for over $200,000, the Wisconsin PSC determined that the intervenor applications were duplicative enough to award a joint amount of $75,000.

With that decision, SOUL and CETF were faced with the problem of having to dramatically reduce what the two groups could offer in compensation to expert witnesses while still presenting a solid and compelling stance that the Badger Coulee line is 1) not needed, 2) environmentally harmful, and 3) economically obscene. In effect, SOUL and CETF were expected to divide the funds in any way the two groups could agree to do so.

After a great deal of introspection and discussion, the SOUL and CETF boards independently voted to join forces and dollars, with a focus on compensating key expert witnesses. A newly developed joint workplan, as required by the WPSC, will be submitted soon. A steering committee made up of 2 SOUL board members and 2 CETF board members has been formed to monitor progress of all documents required of expert witnesses, to ensure that filings with the WPSC are done in a timely manner, and to maximize our opportunities for collaboration and effective dissent.

Fund raising efforts are ongoing to try to maximize the dollars awarded by the WPSC. Look for more information on this website posted as this process unfolds.

We will keep you updated as more happens. The CETF Board is excited about working in joint effort with SOUL. In unity there is strength! The CETF board very much wants to hear from you. Feel free to post your thoughts to this blog. More about SOUL can be found here.

 

Energy Innovation Key to our Future

by Deb Severson

Rather than accept that battles waged about high-voltage regional transmission lines are between not-in-my-backyard challengers and straight-line engineers, or coal vs. renewable energy, we should get curious, educated and involved.

Rather than accept that more transmission will improve the reliability and environmental impact of our grid, we need to relentlessly ask “why?” Especially when the stakes are so high.

Read the entire article at LaCrosseTribune.com.

Thank you, Deb, for another eloquently written article on the need for a energy solution paradigm shift in Wisconsin and across the nation.

 

 

… for a sustainable energy future