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Powering up

 

Gov. Jim Doyle made a wise move this week when he directed the Public Service   Commission and state Department of Natural Resources to devise policies to streamline   electric transmission and generation construction.

 

At a press conference Tuesday, Doyle announced his executive order to the two   agencies to develop by Sept. 5 a more efficient process for companies applying   to construct transmission and power generation.

 

It was a move embraced by PSC chairwoman Burnie Bridge, who said it would not,   in any way, diminish the level of scrutiny projects receive.

 

"It makes good business sense to explore ways to align the process for   applicants," she said.

 

Pointing to last week’s blackout on the East Coast, Doyle said that, while   Wisconsin’s transmission system held out, reliability concerns exist. In issuing   his executive order, Doyle emphasized Wisconsin’s relatively weak transmission   grid, having only four incoming high-voltage transmission lines compared to   Illinois with 25 and Minnesota with 18.

 

And Doyle said the blackout should serve as a wake-up call for the state.

 

While that may at first seem like an overstatement, it’s not extreme.

 

For as Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham and an international task force set   out Wednesday to investigate why the blackout occurred, the Public Service Commission   of Wisconsin raised the state’s electric reliability risk level from low to   medium. That designation means it’s more likely utilities might turn the power   off to business customers who pay lower rates in exchange for allowing their   electricity to be shut down during times of peak demand.

 

The reasons behind the designation are threefold: This week’s hot weather,   rising demand in the Madison area and the shutdown of a power-plant generator   at the Columbia Energy Center near Portage.

 

Further, demand is expected to increase. According to the Energy Lifeline Coalition   of Wisconsin, the need for electricity is growing by 2.5 percent to 3.5 percent   each year in the state.

 

Doyle’s action is clearly not an overreaction; electrical shortages — and   resulting economic harm — could occur here if steps are not taken to avert   them.

 

Doyle’s executive order is the first step in that direction.

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