And then there were two.
The American Transmission Company Wednesday announced that it had finalized its two route options for the 345 kV transmission line they want to run from Rockdale to West Middleton — a northern option that generally follows the Beltline and a southern option that uses mostly rural areas offset from county highways.
ATC will in October submit the two options to the Public Service Commission of Wisconsin, which will most likely then take about a year to make its final decision on which to build.
The news of the Beltline route didn’t come as too much of a surprise to those gathered at the press conference, as the route has been talked about throughout the planning stages as having the most existing linear right of way options, and while the southern route was somewhat surprising considering it’s longer and calls for all new right of way lines to be constructed, it’s path through rural areas leaves it flexible for future options.
Mark Williamson, ATC’s vice president of major projects, said that the final two choices were worked out after an arduous narrowing-down process.
“We considered about 600 miles of different options in about 1,000 different segments,” he said. “These were the two that made the most sense.”
Williamson said that the Beltline route would likely cost just more than $200 million to construct, while the southern option would cost about $220 million. While those estimates more than double the amounts ATC had estimated earlier in the process, Williamson said a lot of different factors have to be considered now.
“The prices are adjusted for inflation and are in year-of-construction dollars, which will likely be 2011 through 2013,” he said. “We had to take into account things like costs of electrical equipment, rising steel prices and the fact that labor costs are up due to the fact that the work force in specialized labor is down.”
Public input considered
Two shortcut options will also be part of the ATC’s proposal to the PSC — one that follows the southern route but then cuts north through Oregon and Fitchburg to join the Beltline route near Verona Road, and another that follows the southern route, cuts north through Oregon and then west through Fitchburg to rejoin the southern route near Verona.
Williamson said the options were considered due to the concerns ATC had heard from the cities of Madison and Monona as well as the Wisconsin Department of Transportation, which had taken issue with possible constraint problems on the Beltline route.
“We still feel the Beltline route as a whole is the best option, however,” Williamson said. “Of course, the rural route allows for some expansion capability if you want to start thinking about the future. The Beltline would be a one-shot deal.”
ATC estimated that almost 1,200 landowners would be affected if the southern route was chosen, although Williamson pointed out that many of them are aware of the fact and were integral parts of ATC’s listening sessions on route proposals.
“The input we had from landowners had a lot to do with the routes we chose,” he said. “Some people would say things like, ‘I’d rather you cut diagonally across my land than go around it,’ and those kinds of things were a tremendous help. You can’t just say, ‘I don’t want it here, put it somewhere else.’ Outcry didn’t affect our decision, input did.”
Williamson said ATC projects 2.8 percent to 3.5 percent jumps in energy use each year through 2013. If the 345 kV line isn’t constructed, he said, it could mean lights out for large parts of the county.
“We will run out of gas in the next couple years if we don’t do something to upgrade our system,” he said.