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Xcel Energy plans new $500M transmission line in western Wisconsin

Utility says new line will improve grid reliability amid shift away from coal-fired power plants

utility lines standing in Maine
Central Maine Power utility lines are seen in 2021, in Pownal, Maine. Robert F. Bukaty/AP Photo

Xcel Energy plans to build a new $500 million transmission line through parts of western Wisconsin. The company says it’s needed to maintain grid reliability as the utility transitions away from coal-fired power plants and brings in more wind power from Minnesota and the Dakotas.

It will be some time before the final route of the 345-kilovolt Western Wisconsin Transmission Connection is known. Xcel Energy doesn’t plan to submit an application with the state Public Service Commission until summer 2024.

But the company expects the line to start at an existing substation near the City of Blair in Trempealeau County and connect with another transmission line near the City of Owen in Clark County or the Village of Sheldon in Rusk County.

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“We’ve identified a handful of potential route options,” Xcel spokesperson Randy Fordice told Wisconsin Public Radio. “Virtually all of those follow existing corridors of some type, whether that’s an existing transmission line that we would propose to rebuild with this new 345-kilovolt line in place or along a roadway or a state highway.”

Fordice said letters have already been sent to landowners within 1,000 feet of the proposed transmission line routes. A series of open houses touting the project will be held from Oct. 9 through Oct. 12.

“It’s really a matter of just making sure that we’re reinforcing the overall grid to be able to continue and improve the reliability that our customers experience and then to be able to deliver that renewable energy that is being pulled by users throughout the entire system, mainly from, you know, the western part of the service area,” Fordice said.

Citizens Utility Board of Wisconsin, a nonprofit advocate for residential customers and small businesses, will weigh in on Xcel’s proposal after the PSC application is filed next year, said executive director Tom Content.

He said the organization is concerned about affordability and “increasing rate pressure on customers.”

“Customers are seeing a double whammy of cost pressure because we’re still paying for the coal plants because they’re not all gone yet,” Content said. “And then we’re paying for the new investment both in transmission lines and in other and in the renewable (power) projects themselves.”

While Xcel Energy holds its transmission line open houses next week, Republican state lawmakers will hold a public hearing on a bill giving transmission line owners, like Xcel, the exclusive right to build on to their networks. The bill would, in essence, block outside competition.

“It’s a kind of a monopoly protection proposal for the incumbent monopolies, in this case, ATC (American Transmission Company) and Xcel,” Content said.

ATC, Xcel, Madison Gas and Electric and other companies are supporting the bill. Environmental advocacy group Clean Wisconsin, the AARP and the free-market conservative group Americans for Prosperity oppose the legislation.