Wisconsin regulators are asking a La Crosse judge to reconsider his decision to halt work on a 7-mile stretch of a controversial high-voltage power line between La Crosse and Madison.
The town of Holland had asked the court to overturn the Wisconsin Public Service Commission’s approval of the Badger-Coulee transmission line, arguing that the panel responsible for protecting utility consumers erred when it authorized a consortium of utility companies to build the nearly $580 million project.
The town also challenged the PSC’s decision to route the line along the Hwy. 53 corridor on separate poles across the highway from another high-voltage line.
Judge Todd Bjerke denied the town’s primary challenge but found the PSC failed to provide a rational basis for the routing and ordered construction of the La Crosse County portion stopped while the commission re-evalutes the route.
Attorneys for the PSC filed a motion appealing Bjerke’s May 1 order, arguing it was based on misunderstandings of the facts and of his authority.
A joint venture of American Transmission Co. and several regional utility companies, including La Crosse-based Dairyland Power Cooperative, the 180-mile line will run between the Madison suburbs and Holmen, where it will connect to another high-voltage line, CapX2020, that runs across Minnesota and western Wisconsin.
The owners say the lines will make the electric grid more reliable and provide a pipeline between remote locations with strong wind resources with population centers like Madison and Milwaukee where the energy is needed. The cost will be shared by customers in 15 Midwestern states and one Canadian province.
The town argued that Badger-Coulee is not necessary to keep the lights on in western Wisconsin.
While deferring to the PSC’s decision on need, Bjerke said the PSC’s record supporting its decision was “incomplete, inaccurate, defective and/or false” in part because the PSC did not provide its environmental impact studies.
PSC attorneys said they did submit the documents, which they listed on a 45-page affidavit submitted to the court.
Commission attorneys also argue that Bjerke overstepped his authority when he ordered work stopped and that he erred in his review of the siting decision.
The PSC says Bjerke’s order will harm the state because the project is expected to mitigate expected overloads on the existing grid between “now and 2023.”
ATC, which is spearheading the project, began pre-construction work on the La Crosse County portion of the line in April. The southernmost segment, in Dane County, is completed, while ATC has yet to secure the necessary federal wetland permits needed for much of the rest of the construction.
A company spokesperson said it’s not clear whether the injunction would delay completion of the line, slated for late 2018.
Bjerke has scheduled a hearing for May 24.