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Power line bill offers clarity

By Paul Snyder

“Within the area” are three words in Wisconsin law creating administrative headaches for the state and developers trying to rebuild transmission lines.

“Look at the term,” said Scot Cullen, chief of the gas and energy division of the Public Service Commission of Wisconsin. “See if you can define it.”

The “within the area” problem applies to the difference between a company needing a certificate of public convenience and necessity or a certificate of authority for a transmission line project.

The certificate of authority streamlines the project by letting the company simply begin work. A certificate of public convenience and necessity requires the company identify alternate routes, talk with property owners who could be affected by an alternate route and conduct environmental impact studies.

According to state law, if a transmission company wants to upgrade an existing line, the PSC must review the project and grant a certificate of public convenience and necessity unless the upgrade is within the area of an existing transmission line right-of-way.

If the PSC determines the project is within the area, the developer gets a certificate of authority, said Sarah Justus, spokeswoman for Waukesha-based American Transmission Co. LLC.

“So the question is: How close is close?” she said. “Because if we’re not within the area, we’re going to have more work to do.”

State Rep. Jim Soletski, D-Green Bay, and state Sen. Jeff Plale, D-South Milwaukee, have introduced a bill that defines “within the area” as 60 feet in either direction of the transmission line’s centerline.

The PSC has not taken a position on the bill, Cullen said, but supports clarity. He said he does not know how many upgrade projects have been called into question, but there always is ambiguity when the PSC has to determine what “within the area” means.

Justus said ATC dealt with the issue when it proposed upgrading a 69-kilovolt line in Door County.

“It was ultimately determined the upgrade wasn’t entirely within the area of the existing line, so we had to develop other options,” she said.

ATC in November submitted its application for the project, but the PSC has yet to determine a route for the eight-mile line.

“I’m not saying it should have been given a (certificate of authority),” Justus said. “I’m just saying it would be beneficial if we all had more clarity on what kind of parameters we had to work with.”

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