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.