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.
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