WPL is penalized for unclear information about wind-farm project

Posted on November 15, 2010. Filed under: Transmission, Wind | Tags: , , |

From an article by Judy Newman in the Wisconsin State Journal:

Wisconsin Power & Light got a slap on the wrist from state regulators for not making it clear that there will be problems getting electricity out to consumers from a major wind farm the Madison utility company is building in Minnesota.

Last April, WPL requested a $35.4 million rate boost for 2011, primarily to help pay for the Bent Tree wind farm near Albert Lea, Minn., which is expected to cost more than $450 million. The rate request was later reduced to $16 million in an agreement between the utility and regulators.

On Thursday, the state Public Service Commission, in a preliminary decision, agreed to an increase of about $12 million, then penalized WPL $3 million, reducing the amount the utility could charge ratepayers to $9 million.

“The PSC said the utility was not keeping the commission adequately informed of developments on transmission constraints,” said Bob Norcross, administrator of the PSC’s gas and electric division. The problem involves over-burdened high-voltage lines to carry electricity from the wind farm to the power grid, Norcross said. The PSC voted 2-1 for the penalty, with commissioner Mark Meyer opposed.

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Wind energy producers face wall in moving power east

Posted on November 1, 2010. Filed under: Transmission, Wind |

From an article by Dan Piller in the Des Moines Register:

Iowa energy policymakers know that building the nation’s second-largest wind generating capacity was relatively easy compared with the next step of figuring how to transport surplus electricity to Eastern cities.

One thing appears certain: If plans don’t gel relatively soon on ways to move wind energy across state lines, the slowdown in building wind farms in Iowa will turn into a complete halt.

“Absolutely, Iowa will see wind energy development stopped if transmission issues aren’t solved,” said Roya Stanley, director of the Iowa Power Fund. She’s Gov. Chet Culver’s representative on multistate task forces trying to untangle the wires, literally, to build an interstate electric system.

Robert Loyd, manager of the Clipper Windpower plant in Cedar Rapids, said: “Everybody’s waiting for something to happen. If we don’t get the transmission issue solved fairly soon, we’ll hit a wall on new wind power development.”

Loyd laid off workers last year. So did TPI Composites in Newton, a company heralded as part of that city’s attempts to come back from the Maytag closing five years ago.

Wind already faces a stiff challenge from natural gas, which burns cleaner than coal and now is believed to be in much larger supply in the nation than previously believed five years ago thanks to huge discoveries.

Gas has a built-in advantage — a national network of pipelines. Wind-generated electricity doesn’t have a multistate transport system, and such a network will be needed if Iowa and the Upper Midwest expect to succeed.

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Business, labor, renewable groups support evaluation of transmission line

Posted on September 30, 2010. Filed under: Transmission |

For Immediate Release
September 29, 2010

For More Information Contact:
Dave Poklinkoski: (608) 256-8896
Brandon Scholz: (608) 244-7150
Michael Vickerman: (608) 255-4044


MADISON, Wis. – American Transmission Co. (ATC) recently announced that, after two years of study, a 345-kilovolt transmission line from the La Crosse area to DaneCounty would provide multiple benefits to Wisconsin electric consumers. These benefits include improved electric system reliability, economic savings for Wisconsin utilities and electric consumers, and improved access to renewable energy resources. ATC is finalizing its planning evaluation of the 150-mile Badger Coulee Transmission Line project and began public outreach efforts this week with a series of open houses in eight
Wisconsin communities.

A broad group of organizations with a direct stake in Wisconsin energy issues today released the attached letters supporting ATC’s evaluation of the need and multiple benefits of the Badger Coulee Transmission Line. These organizations include:
+ The Utility Workers Coalition representing over 28,000 workers in the energy industry,
+ Several labor unions involved in Wisconsin’s utility industry (IBEW Local 2150, IBEW Local 953, IBEW Local 2304, IBEW Local 965, IUOE Local 310),
+ Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce (WMC), a statewide advocate for the business community,
+ RENEW Wisconsin, the state’s leading renewable energy advocacy organization,
+ Wisconsin Grocers Association, the state’s representative and advocate of the
grocery industry,
+ Midwest Food Processors Association, a regional trade association advocating on behalf of food processing companies,
+ Wisconsin Technology Council, a statewide leader and catalyst for the development of science and technology-based businesses, and
+ Wisconsin Business Council, a statewide business group focused on improving the state’s business climate.

These organizations intend to participate actively in ATC’s continuing planning and public outreach activities for the Badger Coulee Transmission Line and in any subsequent regulatory proceedings regarding the project.

“ATC’s initial results show that this project has the potential for improving electric reliability in Wisconsin, reducing energy congestion, and saving electric customers money. This would provide multiple benefits to our members who rely on their electric supply and want to keep their costs down,” said Brandon Scholz, President and CEO of
the Wisconsin Grocers Association.

Dave Poklinkoski, President of IBEW Local 2304, commented, “A strong 345-kV connection to the west would give Wisconsin utilities increased access to the wholesale electric market enabling them to buy and sell electricity when pricing situations are advantageous. Such a high-voltage connection also delivers power where it’s needed
more efficiently and reduces line losses in the delivery of power.”

Michael Vickerman, Executive Director of RENEW Wisconsin, explained, “Parts of Iowa, Minnesota, and the Dakotas are blessed with strong winds. Right now most of these areas are not well integrated into the regional transmission system. As Wisconsin transitions to increased use of renewable energy, we will need to expand regional transmission capacity to tap wind energy both inside and outside of Wisconsin.”

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High-voltage power line would link Madison, La Crosse

Posted on July 27, 2010. Filed under: Transmission, Wind |

From a blog post by Tom Content in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:

American Transmission Co. announced Monday that it will seek to build a 345,000-volt power line linking Madison and La Crosse, with the cost of the project tentatively pegged at $425 million.

The Pewaukee-based power company says two years of study have shown that a 150-mile line would boost electric system reliability, savings for utilities buying power in the Midwest wholesale power market and improve access to wind power generated west of Wisconsin.

No route has yet been selected and the company will spend the next two years exploring routing alternatives in the corridor shown above. A detailed cost estimate will be available once potential routes for the line are selected, said ATC spokeswoman Anne Spaltholz.

The company will host open houses with the public and stakeholders beginning this fall to explore routing choices, she said.

The line, which has been given the name Badger Coulee Transmission Line, is expected to offset the need for about $140 million in lower-voltage upgrades in western Wisconsin communities, ATC said, citing its own studies.

ATC is a transmission-line company that is owned primarily by the local electric utilities in eastern Wisconsin.

Details about the location and cost of the line will be announced when ATC submits a formal application for the line to the state Public Service Commission in 2013. At that time, the company will submit detailed routing information about two alternatives for the commission to consider.

If approved, the line would be built by 2018.

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Wind power might require a costly grid expansion

Posted on July 19, 2010. Filed under: Transmission, Wind |

From an article by Tom Content in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:

The Midwest could be crisscrossed with a new network of high voltage power lines to move wind-generated power from the windiest spots in the Dakotas, Iowa and Minnesota.

A group of utilities in 11 states, including Pewaukee-based American Transmission Co., is studying three alternatives, each of which would cost at least $23 billion over the next 20 years.

What’s unclear: How much it will end up costing for Wisconsin’s share of the projects. A more detailed analysis has been launched to help determine what the payoff could be in savings from increasing the flow of low-cost power around the region, said Flora Flygt, ATC’s director of strategic projects.

The studies are in response to public policy moves that could result in a dramatic increase in wind energy development. More than 30 states have moved to spur utilities to add more renewable energy. Federal energy legislation pending in Congress could set a national renewable mandate as well.

Pewaukee-based ATC, along with Dairyland Power Cooperative and Xcel Energy, are also studying a high-voltage 345,000-volt power line that would link La Crosse with Madison, with studies slated to be completed by the end of the year.

There’s no question that building essentially a brand-new extra-high voltage system for power will cost a lot. A study by ATC, Xcel Energy and other Midwest utilities, known as the Smart Transmission study, pegs the total cost at $23 billion to $25 billion, by 2029.

The 20-year planning document identifies several projects that would come into the state – some of them by 2019 – including 345,000-volt lines or 765,000-volt lines that would cross southern Wisconsin. It also identifies a direct-current power line across Lake Michigan to create another west-to-east corridor for power.

The utilities’ report, the Strategic Midwest Area Renewable Transmission study, follows the unveiling last year of a plan by ITC Holdings of Novi, Mich., that proposed a high-voltage network in the Midwest at a cost of $10 billion to $12 billion. Earlier this year, planners at the Midwest wholesale power market produced a report detailing a variety of options that cost upward of $16 billion.

Key questions remain about the plans to add a renewable power “overlay,” most notably, who would pay.

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Will we create a grid smart enough for the 21st century?

Posted on July 7, 2010. Filed under: Smart grid, Transmission |

As daylight fades, Manhattan continues to gorge on power. New York City is tied to fuels like natural gas, with less than one percent of its electricity coming from wind or solar.

From an article by Joel Achenbach in National Geographic, with photos by Joe McNally

Can we fix the infrastructure that powers our lives?

We are creatures of the grid. We are embedded in it and empowered by it. The sun used to govern our lives, but now, thanks to the grid, darkness falls at our con­venience. During the Depression, when power lines first electrified rural America, a farmer in Tennessee rose in church one Sunday and said—power companies love this story—”The greatest thing on earth is to have the love of God in your heart, and the next greatest thing is to have electricity in your house.” He was talking about a few lightbulbs and maybe a radio. He had no idea.

Juice from the grid now penetrates every corner of our lives, and we pay no more attention to it than to the oxygen in the air. Until something goes wrong, that is, and we’re suddenly in the dark, fumbling for flashlights and candles, worrying about the frozen food in what used to be called (in pre-grid days) the icebox. Or until the batteries run dry in our laptops or smart phones, and we find ourselves scouring the dusty corners of airports for an outlet, desperate for the magical power of electrons.

The grid is wondrous. And yet—in part because we’ve paid so little attention to it, engineers tell us—it’s not the grid we need for the 21st century. It’s too old. It’s reliable but not reliable enough, especially in the United States, especially for our mushrooming population of finicky digital devices. Blackouts, brownouts, and other power outs cost Americans an estimated $80 billion a year. And at the same time that it needs to become more reliable, the grid needs dramatic upgrading to handle a different kind of power, a greener kind. That means, among other things, more transmission lines to carry wind power and solar power from remote places to big cities.

Most important, the grid must get smarter. . . .

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Xcel Energy and co-sponsors release Phase One of Transmission Study for transporting wind energy across Upper Midwest

Posted on July 1, 2010. Filed under: Transmission, Wind |

From an news release issued by Excel Energy:

MINNEAPOLIS – Phase One of a comprehensive study released today by a coalition of energy leaders, identifies future transmission needs in the Upper Midwest to support renewable energy development and to transport that energy to population and electricity load centers. Xcel Energy is co-sponsoring the study with Electric Transmission America – a joint venture between subsidiaries of American Electric Power and MidAmerican Energy Holdings Company, American Transmission Company, Exelon Corp., NorthWestern Energy and MidAmerican Energy Company.

The Strategic Midwest Area Transmission Study (SMARTransmission) sponsors retained Quanta Technology LLC to evaluate extra-high voltage transmission alternatives for new transmission development in the Upper Midwest. In phase one, Quanta evaluated eight transmission alternatives designed to support the integration of significant new wind generation within the study area, including North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota, Iowa, Wisconsin, Nebraska, Missouri, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan and Ohio. The plans would accommodate the integration of up to 56.8 gigawatts of wind generation. This translates into enough energy to power over 15 million households. If it is determined that less wind energy is needed, transmission recommendations would be adjusted accordingly.

The study’s Phase One results recommend three alternatives for further study based on a rigorous reliability assessment and stakeholder input. One of the alternatives is primarily 765-kilovolt extra-high voltage transmission, another includes 765 kilovolt combined with limited use of high-voltage direct current transmission lines, while the third constitutes a combination of both 345-kilovolt and 765-kilovolt transmission lines. The three alternatives will be evaluated further during the second phase of the study, scheduled for completion during the third quarter of 2010. The Phase One report can be downloaded at

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Making a connection: Wind transmission grid weakens west of Wisconsin

Posted on January 25, 2010. Filed under: Transmission, Wind |

From an article by Melissa Rigney Baxter in The Daily Reporter:

The multimillion-dollar construction projects to get the blades spinning won’t mean much if there’s no way to transmit wind farm electricity.

So far in Wisconsin, transmission has been less of a problem than local approvals and harnessing the wind, but that could change as the state reaches farther west for renewable energy.

“Connecting wind in Wisconsin is not very challenging at all,” said Michael Vickerman, executive director of RENEW Wisconsin. “Where you see all the wind projects in eastern Wisconsin, they are close to existing transmission lines.”

We Energies considered 118 potential sites for the recently approved Glacier Hills Wind Park in Columbia County, said Brian Manthey, utility spokesman. We Energies considered many factors, including the most efficient transmission.

Combined with access to wind and area demographics, transmission is a top priority when evaluating an area for wind turbines, Vickerman said.

“Without transmission,” he said, “there is no product to sell.”

While Wisconsin wind is easy to capture and transmit, that is not the case in the wind-rich areas in the Dakotas, western Minnesota and Iowa.

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Questions follow announcement of green superhighway

Posted on February 11, 2009. Filed under: Transmission, Wind |

From an article by Judy Newman:

The proposal would involve building massive 765-kilovolt transmission lines — nearly twice the capacity of the biggest lines now running through the state, at 345 kilovolts — and would run through parts of North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota, Iowa, Wisconsin, Illinois and Indiana.

A conceptual map has the line entering Wisconsin at the state’s border with Minnesota and Iowa, about halfway between La Crosse and Prairie du Chien, and heading east toward what appears to be the Madison area. An ITC official did not provide site details.

“If all goes well, we could start construction in two years. This is obviously a project of significant scope,” said Lisa Aragon, ITC’s director of strategic initiatives. “We are aggressively targeting 2020 (for the lines) to be in service.”

The huge transmission cables could carry up to 12,000 megawatts of wind-generated electricity, reducing carbon emissions by up to 34 million metric tons, the equivalent of annual emissions from at least seven 600-megawatt coal-fired power plants, said ITC chairman and chief executive Joseph Welch.

“The Green Power Express is in many ways the true definition of a ‘smart grid,’ ” Welch said in a prepared statement. It is part of “a bigger ITC vision of a super regional high-voltage transmission backbone,” he said.

Wisconsin regulatory officials, utility companies and environmentalists agree that more line capacity is needed to transport electricity generated by the growing number of wind farms. But they’re not sure ITC’s plan for giant-sized lines is the answer.

Michael Vickerman, executive director of the Madison environmental group, Renew Wisconsin, said he has “reservations” about the need for 765-kilovolt lines. Smaller transmission upgrades can accommodate new wind generation, he said.

Wisconsin Public Service Commission Chairman Eric Callisto also has questions.

“I don’t want to close any doors to what they have proposed but I have lots of grave concerns about the cost,” he said. ITC is proposing “very large lines” that would require “very large right-of-ways,” Callisto said. A right-of-way is the legal permission to use a property owner’s land or the area above it.

Callisto is part of a five-state panel — involving Wisconsin, Iowa, Minnesota North Dakota and South Dakota — discussing how to move electricity east from windier western states, and how to pay for that. The group has been looking into 345-kilovolt lines, Callisto said, and hopes to make recommendations this fall.

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High-voltage superhighway for green power announced

Posted on February 10, 2009. Filed under: Transmission, Wind |

From a blog entry by Tom Content on

A major power line network linking the windiest parts of the Midwest with Milwaukee and Chicago was unveiled today by a Michigan transmission utility.

There’s no word on how such a project would get built, given longstanding opposition to major high-voltage power line projects, but ITC Holdings Corp. (ITC) said it seeks to address the inability of the nation’s power grid to move power around.

ITC has named its project the “Green Power Express.” The express would come through Wisconsin, linking the Madison area with northeastern Iowa and southern Minnesota, according to a conceptual map prepared by ITC.

“The Green Power Express will create the much-needed link between the renewable energy-rich regions of the Midwest and high-demand population centers,” said Joseph L. Welch, chairman, president and chief executive of ITC, a transmission utility that is based in Novi, Mich.

The project carries a price tag of $10 billion to $12 billion and would span 3,000 miles in Wisconsin and six other states with power lines that carry 765,000 volts of electricity. These lines are capable of carrying much more electricity than the largest lines in Wisconsin, which are 345,000 volts.

The project aims to address one of the biggest hurdles seen to having Wisconsin and other states meet targets that would require as much as 25% of the state’s electricity to come from renewable sources of energy, such as wind and solar, by 2025. Some of those hurdles were described over the weekend in the New York Times.

In short, the best sources where renewable energy can be produced — states such as the Dakotas and Iowa — areas that are far from population centers where most electricity is consumed.

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