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Utility scales back plan for Mich. power line (UPDATE)

WAUKESHA, Wis. (AP) — A Wisconsin utility is scaling back its plans to run power lines into Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, citing reduced energy needs and a pending review of future needs.

American Transmission Co. LLC, Waukesha, had planned to extend power lines 122 miles from the Green Bay area into the U.P., but the project has been pared back to 45 miles, ATC spokesman Jackie Olson said.

The decision evolved after the We Energies coal-fired power plant in Marquette, Mich., decided to keep running. The utility, along with Wolverine Power Cooperative of Michigan, had considered closing the plant rather than pay for federally mandated pollution controls, but ultimately it decided to install the controls.

With that plant operating, there wasn’t as great a need for power lines, the Midwest Independent Transmission System Operator concluded.

The scaled-back plans mean the project is expected to cost about $273 million to $409 million, down from the original $900 million estimate.

However, ATC still is continuing to propose a smaller power line between Holmes, Mich., and Escanaba, Mich. The move is aimed at preventing power failures such as the extensive blackout that hit the peninsula in 2011.

ATC said it expects to file its plans with Michigan regulators this year and with Wisconsin officials in early 2014, with construction slated to start in 2015, Olson said.

The Midwest Independent Transmission System Operator, which oversees the electrical grid in the upper Midwest and part of Canada, has been conducting a study of power needs in the area. The review was requested by several advocacy groups in response to ATC’s request for fast-track approval of the U.P. project.

Olson said ATC was deferring its expansion until Midwest ISO completed its study.

One of the advocacy groups was the Citizens’ Utility Board in Madison. Charlie Higley, its executive director, said ATC’s scaled-back plans still raised concerns. He said he was worried about the cost of the project and whether the utility’s new plans still were more ambitious than necessary.

“CUB is still worried about having Wisconsin ratepayers pay for most of the proposed transmission lines, even though they would benefit the Michigan economy,” he said. “We do not believe this is a fair allocation of the costs of the proposed project between Wisconsin and Michigan citizens.”

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