BEGINS IN MARATHON---
WITH PROBLEMS A PLENTY
NOT JUST PROBLEMS IN MARATHON---READ ON---GROUPS IN WISCONSIN FINDING MORE AND MORE REASONS TO CHALLENGE ATC AND ITS 10 YEAR PLAN...WHICH BY THE WAY, MAY INCLUDE A NEW DELUXE TRANSMISSION LINE NEAR YOU...ALSO, WE HOPE YOU FOLLOW THE MONEY...AS WE HAVE SAID IN THE PAST, "NEED OR GREED? READ ON, AND YOU BE THE JUDGE.
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Speaking Bear to Power
By Mike Simonson
Friday, February 24, 2006
(LADYSMITH) A hibernating bear and her cubs are in the way of the Duluth to Wausau transmission line construction in northern Wisconsin. Bulldozers are getting closer, and the Department of Natural Resources wants them to stay away, for awhile at least.
A sleeping bear and her cubs are being watched carefully by many people in northern Rusk County near Ladysmith. The bear’s den is 115 feet from the right-of-way for the Duluth-to-Wausau transmission line. Bulldozers aren’t far away making a path for the transmission line. Department of Natural Resources Wildlife Biologist Mark Schmidt checked it out and confirms the presence of the cubs. He says he’s unsure how many there are, but there are at least two. He says several squeals have been heard at the same time and it’s very hard to distinguish how many.
Schmidt says he’s concerned for the well-being of the animals. He says the mother is in a really deep sleep and really doesn’t have a strong attachment to the cubs at this point. He says if the mother for some reason was really startled and bolted out of there, she may not come back for the cubs.
Schmidt is asking line-builder American Transmission Company to hold off in that area until mid-April. They agreed to stand down for two weeks, a period that ends next week.
Ladysmith resident Bob Ringstad will be among many watching the den. He says this is exactly the reason they opposed the controversial transmission line in the first place. He says somebody has to speak for these animals, the birds and for the whole environment.
A meeting is set around March 1st between ATC, the DNR, and the Wisconsin Public Service Commission, all to decide if the bear and her cubs get to sleep into mid-April or not.
Help with this story came from the Superior Broadcast Network which has pictures of the bear on its website at www.superiorbroadcast.org.
Politics, corruption in debate over transmission lines
By Kurt Gutknecht
Fitchburg Star Editor
About seven years ago, Tom Kreager saw someone trespassing on his property. Today, he sees people trespassing on his rights and trampling on democracy. It's a message he's now bringing to residents here concerned about the location of new transmission lines in Dane County.
Kreager, 42, had no idea how his life would change when he saw a utility employee surveying his land for a new transmission line. One thing led to another. As president of Save Our Unique Lands (SOUL), a grass-roots effort to stop construction of a transmission line across northwestern Wisconsin, he's been pilloried in the state Capitol, and derided by lobbyists and executives with electric utilities.
He's still battling the transmission line “ in spite of several defeats, opponents are questioning the legality of condemning private property for a private company but he's also an apostle of a campaign to recapture government from the utilities and other entrenched special interests. It has definitely been tough going, said Kreager, who's employed as a copier service technician. The resident of Mosinee, where he lives with his wife, Marge, and son, John, 15, spends at least 20 hours a week (down from 40 hours) representing the 2,500-member organization.
Kreager sees a direct relationship with the way in which the state accedes to the electric utilities and the web of corruption and influence buying that has surfaced in Washington and Madison. Itâ€™s an issue that resonates with those who have opposed the utilities, farmers battling so-called stray voltage and those in the path of transmission lines “ but it hasn't yet generated much political traction.
Kreager concedes that it's not a hot-button issue for most residents until they are directly affected. But he predicts that those ranks will swell markedly once ratepayers start picking up the tab for transmission lines that he contends are prohibitively expensive and unnecessary.
Electric rates are likely to double within a decade, he said, in part due to projects like the 250-mile Arrowhead-Weston transmission line, originally predicted to cost $125 million. It's estimated cost now exceeds $400 million. He predicts the final cost will exceed $500 million. And a recent decision by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission means that the costs can't be parceled out to other states, so Wisconsin ratepayers must pay for it. When residents do go up against utilities, they usually acquire a visceral distrust of the entire regulatory and political system that's supposedly there to represent them.
Kreager doesn't mince words. The system is corrupt from start to finish, he said. I would like to have faith in the system, but it's been bought and sold to the highest bidder. The organization has often been successful at the local level, as indicated by the refusal of Douglas County commissioners to allow construction of the transmission line on county land, but that didn't count for much at the state legislature, which enacted legislation that now forces municipalities to sell land for high-voltage lines.
Nino Amato has some advice for local residents concerned about the transmission lines, to demand change at the Public Service Commission. Without change, the commission won't conduct a truly independent investigation of the technical and economic merits of transmission lines, he said.
Amato said it was ridiculous that the technical staff at the PSC has decreased by 33 percent compared to10 years ago. Since the PSC is funded by a fee on utility bills, Amato said hiring PSC staff wouldn't affect the state's budget deficit. Years ago, the analysis provided by staff members was instrumental in approving the construction of two instead of four nuclear power plants in the state, he said.
Amato, widely viewed as one of the most knowledgeable people in the state on the supply and cost of electricity, lost his job as president of the Wisconsin Industrial Energy Group after criticizing the PSC for secretly communicating with We Energies about issuing $490 million in trust bonds. He also vigorously opposed several other PSC decisions, including a bill drafted by Alliant Energy that would have guaranteed a fixed rate of return to utilities. He lambasted a political appointments to the board, a precedent that he said was established by former Gov. Tommy Thompson and which he said has meant that the state, which once had some of the lowest electric rates in the nation, now has some of the highest.
Amato lost his job after a secret five-hour meeting with the group's board. Amato said some board members characterized the meeting as a coup dâ eta tâ and a kangaroo court. Amato said he was used to hardball politics and was encouraged by members of the group to push hard on issues. Nonetheless, he said he was surprised by the manner in which it (his dismissal) happened. Amato has also served on the Wisconsin Board of Regents and as president of the Wisconsin Technical College System Board.
People should keep an open mind on the need for additional transmission lines, he said, but he warned that they were at a terrible disadvantage when they ask the PSC to impartially weigh their concerns.
He's calling for a 180-day moratorium on these projects until an independent committee evaluates the need for new power plants and transmission lines.
The most effective action opponents can take is to contact state legislators,
especially state senators, and urge them not to reappoint Dan Ebert, the current PSC chair, he said.
Amato referred to the PSC's subsequent reversal of its decision to oppose the sale of the Kewaunee nuclear plant after applicants held a fund-raiser for Gov. Jim Doyle. Opponents of the sale were repeatedly denied the opportunity to hold an evidentiary hearing or offer oral arguments against the decision, which could presage how the concerns of Dane County residents would be treated.
It's one of several widely publicized instances where critics say campaign donations have influenced decisions by the PSC and the state legislature.
It takes only two votes on the PSC to approve $100 million increases in rates and billion dollar projects. That is crazy. It has to change, Amato said.
Amato cited a recent poll in which 96 percent of state residents surveyed thought elected officials represented special interests instead of voters.
Higher electric rates may gel that concern into political action. Amato has agreed to work with Kreager and Mike McCabe with the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign to counter what they say is the excessive influence of utility companies and other special interests.
Opponents try to stop local transmission lines
Opposition has sprung up in several quarters to oppose the proposed transmission lines in Dane County. Jeff Jones has spearheaded formation of the Save the Badger Trail Coalition to prevent location of a transmission line on the Badger State Recreational Trail.
Residents of Verona have formed a local chapter of SOUL. About 60 residents recently attended a town of Verona board meeting to express their opposition to two proposed routes that would traverse the township.
David Combs, chair of the town board, said the board would probably oppose the two proposed routes. Combs said the potential routes would encroach on the Madison School Forest and other open-space lands that we had mapped out a long time ago. Clearly power transmission lines are inconsistent with our land-use plan, Combs said.
Residents in the town of Dunn formed the West Waubesa Preservation Coalition to promote rational power alternatives, according to organizer Phyllis Hasbrouck.
We're challenging the idea that it's for sure necessary to build these transmission lines, and weâ€™re saying if we make the power close to where it's needed then you don't™t need the transmission lines.â€ť
In eastern Dane County, residents formed Preserve Our Rural Landscape and met with town of Dunkirk officials, who approved a motion opposing any plans to construct a transmission line through the area. So far, there hasnâ€™t been any organized opposition in Fitchburg. Opponents of the transmission lines wrestle with how they can garner more public support. They worry that they'll be portrayed as acting out of self-interest, disparagingly referred to as NIMBYism.
The construction of transmission lines involves several issues of social justice that haven't resonated with voters, at least not yet. For example, power that will be funneled over the Arrowhead- to-Weston line is generated by Manitoba Hydro from dams that have flooded three million acres of land owned by the Pimicikamak Cree Nation, resulting in what critics say is a massive engineered wasteland.
Then, too, there are complex issues involving the health effects from the exposure to various electrical phenomena, including electromagnetic fields, stray voltage and ground currents.
One of the proposed routes traverses the property of John Barnes, a retired veterinarian who has carefully restored much of the 200 acres he owns in the town of Verona to native prairie. He has also been instrumental in forming a local chapter of SOUL, which meets at 6 p.m., Feb. 27, at the Verona Public Library.
They don't simply want to pass the problem on to someone else, he said. He questions the need for the transmission lines, and whether the state has adequately capitalized on conservation and alternative sources of energy.
People had better wake up, Barnes said. In a society increasingly dependent on electricity, it's uncertain how many will support his opposition to the line.
If some observers are correct, residents may be a lot more receptive when their electric bills go up. By that time, however, it will be too late for Barnes and other opponents to affect the outcome.
Save the Badger Trail Coalition holds a rally Feb. 25 at 1 p.m. It will start at 1617 Gray Owl Ct., Oregon. Information: www.savethebadgertrail.blogspot.com.
For more information about the SOUL chapter in Dane County, call 608-845-6026 or e-mail stoptheline@tds .net. UNG reporter Bill Livick contributed to this article.
A non-profit foundation with close ties to the state Department of Natural Resources received a recent $300,000 donation from American Transmission Co., the Pewaukee-based company poised to spend $3.4 billion over the next decade to improve the state's electric power system.
The big upgrade will require extensive regulatory review from the DNR.
The donation from the company is the largest in the history of the foundation. With similar payments expected in future years, the money is raising questions about the propriety of the arrangement.
Representatives of the DNR and the Natural Resources Foundation said Friday that there are adequate safeguards in place to ensure that the DNR will continue to enforce regulations while ATC builds and upgrades transmission systems across the state.
But others are raising questions.
"I would say it is inappropriate," said Mike McCabe, executive director of the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign.
"I don't think that we should have any state agency in a position where they end up relying financially on companies they need to oversee."
The leader of a fledgling grass-roots group that is opposed to the construction of a possible power line in Dane County also was not happy with the arrangement.
"It looks fishy on the surface," said Jeff Jones, founder of Saving the Badger Trail. "With what's going to be happening in Dane County, we felt our voices were being compromised."
ATC plans to build large-scale transmission lines through Dane County to bolster power supplies in the fast-growing Madison area.
The Natural Resources Foundation was created in 1986 by the DNR as a conduit for donations to fund conservation programs in the face of impending budget cuts.
Since then, the foundation has received individual and corporate donations and doled out more than $1 million to the DNR, the foundation says.
But until a ceremony in December at Lapham Peak in Waukesha County when ATC officials announced the $300,000 donation, with similar payments to come in future years, the foundation had never received a contribution close to six figures, said Charlie Luthin, executive director of the foundation.
"What's the fuss?" he asked.
With state funding for environmental programs drying up, "What do we do as a society? Do we have friends' groups? And that's the role I see myself in. Or do we let things deteriorate?"
The foundation's budget has jumped from $275,000 in 2003 to more than $1 million in 2005, and Luthin said he expects it to grow higher in future years, in part through corporate donations.
Luthin acknowledged that even some members of his board were uncertain about the arrangement with ATC until he explained the details to them.
For its part, the DNR sees no problem with the donation.
"Does it affect the regulatory decisions related to ATC? My answer would be no," said Mark McDermid, a bureau director at the DNR who oversees a new regulatory program called Green Tier.
Though it is unclear who talked to whom first, eventually Luthin and ATC officials got together and began discussing possible donations to the foundation.
ATC is one of a handful of companies in Wisconsin experimenting with Green Tier - a new form of environmental regulation that provides companies with more flexibility from the DNR. In return, the companies agree to exceed the state's environmental standards.
In the case of ATC, the company would have to continue to meet all requirements when building power lines over wetlands or on land that might be home to endangered and threatened species, said Rita Hayen, manager of environmental projects for ATC.
She said ATC has hundreds of projects in play - proposed power lines and upgrades to small and medium lines - all of which will require extensive DNR oversight.
"The message here is that the ($300,000) and Green Tier aren't part of permitting," she said. "Permitting is separate."
As part of Green Tier, McDermid said the ATC also agreed to minimize waste and increase recycling, find ways to reduce pollution and minimize the environmental impact of construction and maintenance projects.
Another option for Green Tier companies is to participate in some kind of "good-hearted approach to natural resources restoration or protection," Luthin said.
"That's what we do," he said, and it's why he contacted ATC about funding environmental programs.
Though the foundation got its start bankrolling DNR projects, Luthin said it now provides funding to other organizations as well.
Still, he estimated that 60% of all funds last year went to the DNR.
The agreement between the foundation and ATC specifies that the $300,000 payments be broken down this way: 40% for state natural areas; 10% each for endangered species, public education and community conservation projects; and 30% to be determined by the Natural Resources Board.
The seven-member board sets policy for the DNR.
Jay Heck, executive director of Common Cause Wisconsin, said that in times of budget cuts, "there has to be provisions for government to look for alternative sources of revenue."
"I don't see that there is any problem, as long as there is no quid pro quo."
But McCabe is wary. "If governments start to feel as if they need that money, then the obvious question in the mind of the public is whether they will start to pull punches."
From the Feb. 11, 2006 editions of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Have an opinion on this story? Write a letter to the editor or start an online forum
Copyright © 2005 Wisconsin State Journal
Wisconsin State Journal
Utility paid for its power report
BEN FISCHER firstname.lastname@example.org
January 26, 2006
Five nonprofit groups took nearly $154,000 from the American
Transmission Co. to help produce a report backing up the company's case
for building new high-voltage power lines across Dane County.
The groups - the Citizens' Utility Board, Renew Wisconsin, 1,000
of Wisconsin, the Wisconsin Energy Conservation Corp. and Clean
Wisconsin - all are chartered as public-interest environmental or
ATC offered the money to participants in two "Energy Initiatives"
created to evaluate the need for new power lines and look at possible
alternatives in the Madison area and Waukesha and Jefferson counties.
Since the Dane County report was completed in early 2005, ATC has
heralded the results as proof that its projects are necessary to meet
the county's burgeoning electricity demand.
All told, ATC has spent $543,000 since late 2003 on expert consultants
and the nonprofits' payments.
The utility, which is jointly owned by the state's five largest power
companies, is in the middle of a $3.4 billion upgrade of the state's
electricity grid, including four major planned projects locally.
Critics slammed the payments on Thursday, calling them an effort by ATC
to "buy off" potential adversaries that corrupted the independence of
"If you have a biased party funding a study, the study will be
said Robin Stearns, who's fighting an ATC- proposed power line near her
Waunakee home. "We should have learned this from the tobacco industry.
They're still trying to tell us secondhand smoke isn't dangerous."
Spokesmen for the nonprofits said the payments were a fair price paid
for highly specialized technical analysis and that an industry-funded
study is better than no advance study at all.
The Citizens' Utility Board was the project's lead coordinator and took
home the bulk of ATC's money - $100,000 in the Dane County study alone,
said executive director Charlie Higley.
In exchange for the payment, CUB's three employees, billing at $85, $80
and $65 per hour, organized meetings, handled invoices and did other
administrative work, according to the services agreement provided to
State Journal by CUB.
Higley bristled at the contention that the deal compromised CUB's
"The contract actually spells out that groups are under no obligation
come to any agreement," said Higley. "This does not change the way we
operate. It will not change the way we operate."
Integrity compromised? But Tom Kreager, the president of anti-power
group Save Our Unique Lands, said the influence of corporate money
"I think it instantly compromises the integrity of the group," said
Kreager, who helped create SOUL to fight the power line being built
between Duluth, Minn., and Wausau.
The organizers invited SOUL and the Sierra Club to join the group, but
they declined, said Steve Hiniker, director of 1,000 Friends. Those
groups could not confirm receiving an invitation.
Clean Wisconsin participated in the early stages of the Dane County
report, taking in $6,000 in participation fees, but then dropped out
was not part of the final report. That group later declined an
invitation to participate in the Waukesha/Jefferson report.
SOUL, the Sierra Club and Clean Wisconsin say they enforce strict
policies against corporate funding.
In the Dane County project, 1,000 Friends and Renew both were paid
$13,000, and WECC received $22,000. Phone messages left for WECC
executive director George Edgar were not returned Thursday.
Corporate funding is sometimes the only money that's available to
nonprofits that struggle with tight budgets, said Steve Hiniker,
executive director of 1,000 Friends.
"We shouldn't always be debating with two hands tied behind our back,"
Hinker and other participants said the collaborative was formed in
response to what they described as shortcomings in state law, which
since 1997 has not allowed long-range energy planning by the state.
Without the collaboratives paid for by ATC, the only discussion about
the power lines would happen at the state Public Service Commission -
where projects are moved through in an arcane, legalistic process under
(The advance planning) "wouldn't have happened otherwise," Higley said.
No alternatives Even if the participants were impartial, the Dane
report did not address important alternatives to new power lines,
Kreager said, including a mixed approach of local power generation,
management and conservation.
That's partly because the report was funded by an industry that turns
profits by building, not conserving, said Nino Amato, a former utility
executive who until recently was executive director of another watchdog
There still is not a truly independent verification of the need for new
lines in Dane County, Amato said.
"Utilities make money building new power plants and transmission lines
so how do we know they are not gold- plating them to earn more
But the study participants point to the Waukesha/ Jefferson county
study, which contradicted ATC's plans for a new 345,000-volt line.
The collaborative determined it wasn't needed, and ATC dropped it from
the company's 10-year-plan. That move showed that ATC isn't stacking
deck, said ATC Vice President Mark Williamson.
"There's a core group of people, that when they can't win an argument
the merits, then they just say the process is corrupt," Williamson
"That is not a responsible position. The fact that you might not like
this answer, so then it's corrupt? . . . I have no patience for that."
Nonetheless, the financial arrangements should have been disclosed more
thoroughly, the project's defenders agree. Nowhere in the final report
are the payments mentioned.
"I agree, that since this has come up, it would have been appropriate
include more disclosure," Higley said.
Wednesday, January 25, 2006
Battle over power line cash starts for county
Marathon County administrator Mort McBain on Monday predicted that $2.1 million in Arrowhead-Weston transmission line revenues would get split up among a variety of projects in a grand political compromise that could be voted on by supervisors possibly as early as March.
“We will end up with a compromise among the various groups who are arguing for the highest and best use of the funds,” he said. “No one department or agency will get all of the money. We will spread it around equitably.”
The administrator said that the county’s Environmental Resources Committee would use a point system to rank various ideas about how to spend the cash and send its recommendation to the Finance and Property Committee for review.
Top suggestions for use of the funds are financing a local conservation grant program, buying up additional county forest for recreation, purchase of wetlands in order to allow construction of new roads and providing seed money for a proposed Dairyland State Academy, a two-year agriculture school.
In the end, said McBain, what will happen with the transmission line money will be up to the Marathon County Board of Supervisors.
He predicted a result that would be a mixture of both the political and the analytical.
“The county board will weigh-in on the merits of the various proposals,” he said. “The county board will and should have the last word.”
The county has three pots of money to figure out what to do with. The county netted $750,000 from the sale of the Nine Mile Forest easement for the Arrowhead-Weston power line. The county is free to use this money for any purpose it sees fit. The county also has received a check for $1,630,000 from the state Department of Administration as a one-time Environmental Impact Fee to offset the disruption of Arrowhead-Weston. By statute, the fee must be used for “park, conservancy, wetland or other similar environmental programs” but, if the county so wishes, it can petition the Public Service Commission to let it use the money for other purposes. Further, the county will receive an $80,000 annual environmental impact fee that declines over a number of years to zero.
The total of the easement payment and impact fee is approximately $2.3 million. County charges of approximately $200,000 for transmission line inspection and review are expected to reduce the total for discretionary projects to around $2.1 million
Conservation, Planning and Zoning department head Ed Hammer said that Environmental Resources Committee supervisors voted last week Wednesday to have his department staff rank suggested uses for the transmission line money.
“You have to have a process to figure out how to spend the money,” he said. “Without a process, the risk exists that a decision could be based on popularity, or the loudest voice, or the squeakiest wheel rather than an objective decision based on the best overall outcome for the county.”
Hammer said that the ranking system would mirror the county’s Capital Improvement Program where projects, everything from squad car purchase to UW dorm repair to courthouse security installation, is given a numerical ranking by a committee of supervisors.
Hammer said that supervisors did not want a political fight over the money.
He noted that while the Wausau/Marathon County Park Commission on Dec. 11 endorsed using the Arrowhead-Weston money for new park land purchases, supervisors on the Forestry, Recreation and Zoning Committee on Jan. 17 voted down the same resolution.
Instead, supervisors preferred that Conservation, Planning and Zoning department staff analyze how different ideas matched up with the county’s core values and its recently completed comprehensive plan, Hammer said.
County finance director Kristi Kordus said that she is happy that the Environmental Resources Committee will rank various projects but also wants the county finance committee to further review its recommendations.
Kordus said that the power line cash is “one-time money” and can’t be used to start new programs that will add to county spending in the future.
For example, Kordus said that the county can’t afford to buy new parks that would require future maintenance that the county can’t pay for.
“With a frozen tax levy, we find ourselves with a budget that is constrained,” she said.
Kordus said that any use of the environmental impact fee money had to be true to state statutes.
She said that the state has drawn up a list of examples where the impact fee is used appropriately: planting trees; purchasing Green Power for local governments; stream improvements; ecological restoration in cooperation with the Nature Conservancy, Trout Unlimited, Ducks Unlimited, Ruffed Grouse Society and Pheasants Forever; purchase of biodiesel fuel for municipal vehicles; purchase of hybrid or electric vehicles; installation of energy efficient appliances, installation of wind turbines, biogas electric generation, and photovoltaic generation; development of bike paths; purchase of conservation easements and open space preservation.
Hammer said that one use of the transmission line money could be to duplicate a Dane County Conservation Fund Grant Program that gives money to municipalities and non-profit organizations to acquire green space or park land.
“Because of the somewhat contentious nature of the Arrowhead-Weston Transmission Line project, it is probably not appropriate that funds be used to replace funds for ongoing expenses currently funded by tax levy, grants or other sources of funding,” he said. “These funds should be used in ways that provide a payback to the county for the intrusion of the transmission line on our landscape and the degradation of our natural resources. These funds should be used for environmental protection.”
Hammer said that he could see the transmission line money split so that the county would spend $200,000 each year for seven years on environmental projects—such as reclaiming degraded land or protecting natural resources—and give $100,000 annually over seven years to local governments and non-profits for similar projects.
Park, Recreation and Forestry Department director Bill Duncanson thinks the power line money should be used to buy more county forest lands.
“It is my belief that as the environmental impact fee was created in recognition of the permanent impacts to land and the ecosystems that it is fitting that the fee be used to permanently protect other lands and ecosystems for the public good,” he said. “County park and forest lands serve this purpose.”
The park director said that an updated forestry plan anticipates that the county population will grow 19 percent to 142,618 by 2020 and, at that time, the county will need to acquire an additional 665 forest acres to meet the demand for recreation.
He said that there is a need for more public recreational land because private land is increasingly off limits for public use.
He said that between 1998 and 2005 Marathon County lost 3,651 acres of private land available for public recreation.
He said that the trend is for private owners to enter forest land as closed to the public under the state’s Managed Forest Law.
There is additional trouble on the horizon for keeping forest lands open to the public, said Duncanson.
“The paper mills are selling off lands and these lands are lost to public use,” he said. “We are seeing where a company like Stora Enso can make more money leasing land out to hunting groups than taking the tax advantage and keeping it open to the public. We know that Mosinee Paper will divest land adjacent to the county forest in a few years. We’d like to have money available to keep public access to it.”
Duncanson said that the state offers zero percent loans to counties for purchase of forest land but that Marathon County has not used that program for two years because there is a perception that these loans will hurt the county’s bond rating.
The park director said that he disagrees with this perception. The land acquired by the county produces valuable timber that, when sold, eventually pays off the loans, he said.
“This is not like bonded money,” he said. “This is a completely different kind of debt.”
Dairyland State Academy
Marathon County administrator McBain said that the Partners for Progressive Agriculture (an arm of the Wausau/Marathon County Chamber of Commerce) and a Dairyland State Academy Task Force would be given an opportunity to make a pitch for transmission line funding.
McBain said that support of Dairyland State Academy followed the county comprehensive plan’s goals of balancing economic development with environmental preservation.
He admitted, however, that funding Dairyland State Academy was not automatically authorized by state statute and that county officials would need to go to the Public Service Commission for special permission to use the money for the ag school.
“It appears that would be a necessary first step,” he said.
McBain said that if the Dairyland State Academy received some of the transmission line funding, that would be okay.
“The funds should not be used for one project,” he said. “A variety of projects should be funded by the money.”
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel - Business & Your Money
One power line must wait
Study finds 3 counties won't have need till 2018
By THOMAS CONTENT
Posted: Dec. 26, 2005
A $124 million high-voltage power line that would cross 60 miles of Waukesha, Jefferson and Dane counties won't be needed as soon as planners had envisioned.
That conclusion was reached recently by a collaborative that included customer and environmental groups, American Transmission Co. of Pewaukee and Milwaukee-based We Energies.
The 345,000-volt power line was thought to have been needed as soon as 2011, and was part of a $3.4 billion, 10-year transmission upgrade plan released in September by ATC, the company that owns and operates eastern Wisconsin's major electric lines.
The delay will remove the power line from the 10-year plan, and mean ratepayers won't have to pay for the $123.8 million project.
"We looked closely at the assumptions and determined that this $124 million transmission line can wait," said Charlie Higley, executive director of the Citizens Utility Board. "That's good news for consumers who would have paid for the line."
The project is the second to receive extra scrutiny by a group known as the Energy Initiative. In a report this year, the group concluded that ATC was correct in projecting the need for $260 million to $310 million to beef up power reliability in Dane County through 2015.
"This project showed again how this collaborative process can work, this time with a different result," Higley said.
The Energy Initiative includes the Citizens Utility Board, 1000 Friends of Wisconsin and ATC, as well as the consulting firm MSB Energy Associates and groups that advocate for renewable energy and energy efficiency.
This would have been the first major high-voltage power line to be planned by ATC for southeastern Wisconsin. The line was expected by some to be controversial, because it would have used some of the same right of way used in recent years by Wisconsin Gas Co. to build a natural gas lateral pipeline in Ixonia.
"The people that endured the pipeline process are not very happy about the prospect of a high-voltage line coming through," said Steve Hiniker, director of 1000 Friends of Wisconsin.
But meeting since May and analyzing the issue, the utilities and customer groups concluded that the earliest the line would be needed is 2018. The group plans to publish a full report on the matter in early 2006.
The study caused American Transmission to take a second look at the assumptions it used to plan for the new line. The transmission company's computer models had foreseen the line experiencing low voltage problems on hot summer days when demand for electricity is highest. But the project can be delayed because We Energies' Germantown and Concord power plants are running more than expected, and will continue to be available to meet spikes in power demand on summer days.
Barry McNulty, a We Energies spokesman, said the debut of a wholesale power market this year and upgrades to plants to make them more efficient have combined to make those plants run more often than ATC had expected.
Franc Fennessy, manager of local relations for ATC, said a similar review process was used for both the Waukesha-Jefferson-Dane project and the Dane County projects.
ATC is pleased with the result of the collaborative, because it can focus its resources on the most urgent projects. The initiative is much less formal than the quasi-judicial and often adversarial nature of cases that are pending before the state Public Service Commission, he said.
"We end up with a better product and ultimately with a project that the public and commission can support," he said. "Our ability to complete a project is linked to the public understanding the need for that project."
At the same time, Fennessy and Hiniker cautioned that the project isn't dead, just delayed.
Another round of analysis for the need for this line could be needed within five, or even three years, Fennessy said.
Hiniker wants corridors for a line preserved as part of the comprehensive plan being undertaken in Waukesha County.
"It's an opportunity for us to look ahead," Hiniker said. "Everybody agrees that unless we do something dramatically different with energy consumption and growth, it will come back. Will we have looked ahead for once and avoided some conflicts?"
Power Line Projects
For more information on the Energy Initiative, see www.energyinitiative.org
For more information on the projects on American Transmission Co.’s drawing board, see www.atc10yearplan.com
9/27/05: 10-year plan lays out spending to improve state's power grid
Wisconsin State Journal
An electric fight
By Ben Fischer 608-252-6123
December 30, 2005
John Manaici - State Journal
(Steve Apps - State Journal)
Robin Stearns, Frank Paynter, Steve Books and Doug Read hail from across Dane County communities and barely know each other.
But they're on the same team today as they begin a pivotal year in their fight to keep proposed high-voltage power lines away from their neighborhoods.
In the coming weeks and months, they'll find out if they're successful. Soon, the American Transmission Co. - the owner of the region's electricity grid - will fine-tune its list of proposed lines and begin to ask state regulators to approve some projects, which would pave the way for construction.
All four have started opposition groups, but their priorities and strategies vary. Stearns, for example, is primarily worried about property values, while Paynter wants to keep ecologically sensitive areas around Lake Waubesa untouched by new development.
They want to avoid a simple "not in my backyard" argument, and they realize that victory in one area might mean defeat in another. But their messages are the same: Keep the electricity lines away.</p> <p>They admit it won't be an easy fight.
"The odds of us winning?" asked Stearns of Waunakee. "Maybe 50-50. If we're lucky."
Standing in their way is a broad consensus among energy experts that the region needs new electric infrastructure to keep up with the county's 3.75-percent annual growth in energy demand. Demand is rising at even higher rates in the southern and western suburbs.
Several environmental and industry watchdog groups that once battled ATC signed on to a study early in 2005 that confirmed the need to keep on building.
Michael Vickerman, executive director of the green-friendly group RENEW Wisconsin, said the participants in the study looked at every conceivable alternative to additional lines, including many of those now being proposed by the new activists, but they were rejected.
"We just didn't see how any combination of alternatives could offset the need or even delay the need of the large lines," Vickerman said.
Meanwhile, the company has poured millions of dollars into a public-relations campaign in the hopes of addressing citizen complaints early and finding routes that will attract minimal opposition.
ATC says that most public input it has received has recognized the need for more lines and generally supports the company's efforts.
With even traditional opponents in its corner, ATC could see a smooth path to getting its plans affirmed by the state Public Service Commission and other regulatory bodies, said UW-Madison business professor Rodney Stevenson.
"Given that (ATC's) initiative took place, I think it's going to be more difficult for the traditional, 'let's bang the bastards over the head and sue their asses off in court' strategy to really work," Stevenson said.
Wires in Waunakee
But Stearns still intends to fight the planned 8-mile, 138-kilovolt line north of Lake Mendota.
Along with her husband, Howard, she's organized WireSafe Wisconsin. The group, with 160 members on its e-mail list, is raising money to pay for a lawyer during the commission's proceedings on the line, expected to begin this month.
They'll need anywhere from $40,000 to $100,000 to be effective, Stearns said. The ultimate goal is simple: force ATC to bury the line it has proposed to build along Highway 113, about 350 feet from the eastern edge of her pricey Savannah Village subdivision.
ATC estimates that such a move would add nearly $4 million to the project's cost.
In addition to legal challenges during the regulatory process, Stearns is pinning her hopes on convincing the village of Waunakee to enact an ordinance requiring electric lines to be buried.
Such an ordinance would carry scant legal force in the face of state approval, especially because the line won't actually enter the jurisdiction of the village. But it could work to deter ATC from the area, Stevenson said.
"There tends to be movement in the direction of least resistance," he said.
ATC will respect local laws, said spokeswoman Annemarie Newman. But the company stands behind its decision to use the Highway 113 route and keep the line above ground.
Mark Williamson, the ATC vice president of major projects, is confident the commission will agree - and is equally confident that most residents support the proposed route.
"Robin's quote, 'group,' unquote is a very small part of the people in the ZIP code," he said.
South of the city On the other side of the lakes, a proposed 345-kilovolt line connecting substations in Middleton and Rockdale - a massive project more than six times longer than the Waunakee line - is in an earlier phase of planning.
In November, ATC released a map of several dozen possible routes, covering most major corridors in southern Dane County. The company will select two or three finalist routes in the spring.
At least three groups have formed to try to influence the decisions, including:
The West Waubesa Preservation Coalition, which is imploring ATC to avoid wetlands and undeveloped areas in the town of Dunn.
Preserve Our Rural Landscape, which wants the power line to stay close to Madison and avoid a more southerly route.
Organizer Doug Read of rural Stoughton said if ATC chooses a route that dips into the southern extremes of the county, it would add as much as 16 unnecessary miles to the line, increasing the project's costs and damaging the southern towns' rural character.
Save Our Unique Lands, the organization that led a long, costly fight against ATC over its electric line now being built between Duluth, Minn., and Wausau, is working to establish a local chapter based in the town of Springdale.
Steve Books of Mount Horeb and John Barnes of the town of Springdale, both renewable energy advocates, are the driving force behind the SOUL chapter. They want to convince industry leaders about the need for more creative solutions to energy concerns.
"The system is pretty much antiquated and obsolete. It could be something you'd see on the 'Antiques Road Show,'" Books said.
ATC to keep pushing In regard to both the Middleton-Rockdale line and its partner, a smaller line upgrade connecting Fitchburg and Montrose, ATC wants the citizens' groups to keep coming.
"They're doing exactly what we want people to do," said Newman. "To identify concerns and contact us in writing. We want to know what the alternatives are."
Frank Paynter, a town of Dunn resident who formed the Waubesa group, said he isn't sold on ATC's outreach, even though he agrees company officials are trying hard to solicit input.
"What that means in terms of actually influencing the PSC and influencing ATC to do the least harmful thing isn't clear," he said.
What is clear is that the reach of Dane County's power grid will begin to expand in earnest in 2006, bringing with it changes to the land it crosses.
(SOUL is quite interested in "following the money", especially after the money changes hand directly prior and after passage of the "Montgomery" Bill. Seems that is the way business is done with our states utilities.)
The probe began after a utility company whistleblower complained to the state attorney general's office in November about possibly improper contacts last year between one of the utilities and top aides at the state Public Service Commission.
Heading into a re-election campaign next year, the Democratic governor is facing increasing scrutiny over campaign donors' influence.
Attorney General Peg Lautenschlager earlier this month said her office was looking into the complaint about the contacts, which PSC officials acknowledge but say were not improper. Lautenschlager has requested records about the contacts but declined to comment on what else she might be examining.
The information obtained by Lautenschlager's office is being shared with U.S. Attorney Steven Biskupic in Milwaukee, the sources said.
"They're asking for chronologies, events, names," said one source. The three sources who spoke about the investigation requested anonymity either to protect their jobs or professional relationships.
Biskupic and Dane County District Attorney Brian Blanchard, who are working with Lautenschlager in the travel contract investigation, declined to comment.
PSC officials said campaign donations to Doyle simply don't influence rulings by the three-member commission, which is controlled by two Doyle appointees but officially is independent.
"Political and campaign considerations don't enter into our decisions," said Dan Schooff, an aide to PSC chairman Dan Ebert. "The public should have full faith in this process."
Doyle spokesman Dan Leistikow said the governor doesn't influence the commission's decisions.
"The PSC is totally independent of the governor and operates much like a court," Leistikow said. "If somebody has a concern with their decision, they have to take it up with the PSC."
In October, Biskupic, a Republican appointee, said he and Lautenschlager, a Democrat, were launching a joint investigation into the $750,000, three-year state employee travel contract that was awarded to Adelman Travel Group of Milwaukee after an evaluation committee initially scored a competing company slightly higher.
Adelman's chief executive and a board member each gave Doyle's campaign a total of $10,000 - the maximum allowed - in the months before and after the contract was announced in March. The firm eventually beat out Omega World Travel of Fairfaix, Va., after the state challenged the two to submit a "best and final" offer.
Doyle has said that he had nothing to do with awarding the contract and that he welcomes the investigation.
Now attention is also focusing on the Kewaunee nuclear plant. The plant's owners - Wisconsin Public Service Corp. of Green Bay and Alliant Energy of Madison - sought the commission's approval to sell it to Dominion Resources of Richmond, Va. The case was controversial, with citizen groups arguing that selling the plant would reduce state control over the aging reactor, while utilities said the sale would lower the financial risks to state ratepayers.
Campaign finance records analyzed by the nonpartisan Wisconsin Democracy Campaign show WPS and Alliant executives contributed more than $43,000 to Doyle around the time the commission was deciding whether to OK the sale of the plant.
Larry Weyers, the chairman and chief executive of the parent company of WPS, and Alliant chairman Errol Davis separately hosted fundraisers for Doyle during the time the proposed sale was before the commission. Alliant and WPS officials denied the fundraising was an attempt to influence the PSC through Doyle.
"It's a real stretch to make a case that there's some kind of correlation between the two," said WPS spokesman Kerry Spees, who added that Lautenschlager's office has not contacted WPS.
Davis also said he has not been approached by investigators.
Attention first focused on the Kewaunee deal after the whistleblower told investigators of meetings in 2004 between WPS executives and top aides to PSC commissioners, sources said. At issue is whether it's proper for utilities and the PSC executive assistants to discuss a contested case such as Kewaunee without ratepayer groups present.
In October, the PSC reached an agreement with Lautenschlager's office in a dispute over a different case in which PSC officials shared a draft decision with representatives of Milwaukee utility WE Energies without also showing it to ratepayer groups. Because of the role played by executive assistants in that case, the agreement prohibits the PSC aides from talking about the merits of a contested case with utilities.
But Schooff, PSC chairman Ebert's aide, said that during the Kewaunee case in 2004 it was still accepted practice for the aides to talk with both utilities and ratepayer groups in a case.
Ratepayer groups and the attorney general's office said the PSC even then had an obligation to avoid appearing too cozy with the utilities it regulated.
"Even the look of impropriety is something that diminishes the public's confidence," said Lautenschlager spokesman Kelly Kennedy.
At its November 2004 meeting, the commission actually rejected the Kewaunee sale. But after WPS, Alliant and Dominion revised their proposal, the commission's two Democratic appointees, Burnie Bridge and Mark Meyer, reversed their earlier decision and approved the sale in March.
- State Journal reporter Ben Fischer contributed to this story.
Environmental Resources Technical Advisory Committee
October 13, 2005
IV. Update on the Arrowhead-Weston Transmission Line Project.
Burgener reported that Conservation, Planning and Zoning (CPZ) staff had video taped all effective
routes and intersections on county highways. Hammer reported on the lack of response from Wisconsin
Public Service (WPS) to McBain’s September 27, 2005 letter, landowner reports of "stealing dirt," and
complaints that sub-contractors were cutting trees outside of the right-of-way. Lovlien reported on an
incident with a sub-contractor being on County property without permission. Speich expressed his
frustration with sub-contractors not following established permitting processes, the apparent lack of
project coordination, and insufficient staff to monitor movement of sub-contractor equipment. Hammer
stated CPZ staff could coordinate documentation of possible violations.
Supervisor Anderson reported that ATC had been requested to attend at the County Board meeting to
address specific questions - ATC/WPS’ plan regarding Town of Wien landowner’s observation of workers
smoking on the job, the landowner waiting for four loads of dirt, timber mat ties appearing to be too close
to roadways, and possible violations of the law by ATC/WPS. Hammer expressed his great concern that,
by not securing the property (11/7/05 – ljs) permits, the terms of the Construction Mitigation Plan were not
During discussion, Zagrzebski stated that Guy Holmes (11/07/05 – ljs) was the project director and was
based in Green Bay, Dave Valine was the project manager and on site 3-4 times per week, and Steve
Mikulsky was the project superintendent and was on site daily. As discussion continued, Zagrzebski
stated that she was uncertain of what response the County expected to McBain’s letter, that the Burma
Road/Redbud Road were being resolved, and she had not attended a meeting regarding McBain’s letter.
Speich reiterated his concerns with the proper permits not being secured, that some of the routes in the
Mitigation plan may not be usable, and the failure of ATC/WPS to examine the routes. Hammer
suggested that ATC review the routes with Speich and, if routes were unusable, the Mitigation plan may
have to be amended. Hammer added that County staff would continue to monitor the project, requested
Speich inform him of any violations, and the possibility of raising these issues with the Public Service
Commission’s (PSC) inspectors and possible consequences. Lovlien commented that the training
County staff received would allow staff within the easements during construction and would help with the
enforcement of the PSC’s plans. Lovlien sent Mikulsky a letter and an agreement that, when the 1100’
easement across County land is cleared, ATC/WPS would follow the County’s timber sale protocol.
Wednesday, October 19, 2005
WPS defends power line construction to
The Wisconsin Public Service project director for the Arrowhead-Weston power line told the Marathon County Board on Tuesday that problems that have hobbled the project over the past two months, including permit violations and unintentional timber theft, have been remedied.
“We believe we are past issues like these,” said Guy Holmes.
But county planning director Ed Hammer said that his office receives daily complaints from either county department workers or county residents about Wisconsin Public Service and its contractors putting up the 345 kilovolt power line.
“We just don’t sense that there is a good project running,” he said.
Holmes said that WPS was “clearly in violation” of Public Service Commission directives when it chipped up and hauled away trees on parcels in the town of Wien in early September.
The WPS spokesperson said that contractors also erred in failing to get county permits for placing timbers in highway right of way ditches.
Yet Holmes said that his company takes seriously permit violations and that steps have been taken internally to keep problems like this from reoccurring.
“There was a lot of outfall in our company,” he said.
Planning director Hammer said that a considerable amount of staff time in the Conservation, Planning and Zoning Department was taken up investigating WPS mistakes.
Hammer said that Tuesday his department received a call about a WPS contractor truck destroying a conservation grassy strip with heavy equipment.
The director also said that a bore hole in Nine Mile Forest had been left open with only cardboard and duct tape over it.
“That is not the procedure we agreed to in our mitigation contract,” said Hammer. “Believe me, the DNR doesn’t say that you can close up a hole with duct tape.”
Hammer said that WPS has received permits for working in county highway right of ways but doesn’t have the needed overweight truck permits.
The planning director said that the mitigation agreement calls for WPS to specify a haul route for the project. That has never happened, Hammer said.
Instead, he explained, WPS contractors constantly call the county highway department to get highway permits.
“It’s a daily occurrence over there for somebody wanting to get a permit to use a road,” he said.
Hammer said that his department officials need to filter information from WPS workers and contractors for the truth.
He said that his WPS contact assured him that the DNR had been contacted about clay silt that spilled out of a bore hole in the town of Wien and across acres of soybean and corn fields.
He learned the next day from the DNR that the state agency had not been contacted.
“There are some trust issues there,” he said.
County supervisors were openly critical of how WPS has dealt with complaints.
Holmes told supervisor Barb Ermeling that WPS had not responded to a letter of complaint from Marathon County administrator Mort McBain because “it didn’t request a reply.”
Supervisor Marv Anderson, Stettin, called WPS’s failure to respond to McBain’s letter “inexcusable” and called on WPS to pay compensatory damages to landowners who have lost timber or soil.
Wausau supervisor Ed Gehl criticized the American Transmission Company for failing to appear, as requested, before the Marathon County Board to answer trustee questions.
Wausau supervisor Aaron Baumgardt, a power line supporter, told Holmes to resolve the ongoing landowner complaints so that the issue did not have to resurface at another county board meeting.
“This has been a thorn in our side for quite a while,” he said.
Holmes told supervisors that they were willing to resolve disputes with landowners.
“We’re a reasonable company,” he said.
Marathon County Sheriff Randall Hoenisch said that he spent three hours at the Lawrence and Joan Wirkus farm, town of Wien, investigating alleged timber theft.
“I got a feeling for what the land means to these people, that their family has been on the land for generations and how they have built barns and houses from timber grown on the property,” said. Hoenisch. “Clearly, these people feel their lives have been infringed upon and they are greatly upset.”
Hoenisch said that landowners have felt that WPS and American Transmission Company contractors have been “flippant and arrogant.”
Hoenisch said that his department’s investigation continues and that reports will be turned over to District Attorney Jill Falstad for possible prosecution.
“The DA will have to make a determination of what action she will take,” he said.
October 3, 2005---Personal statement from a landowner dealing with ATC
September 28, 2005---County rebukes ATC in stern letter
|County rebukes ATC in stern letter Marathon County administrator Mort McBain told supervisors on Tuesday that he has sent a letter of complaint to the American Transmission Company and Wisconsin Public Service concerning violations of an agreement about building the Arrowhead-Weston power line across Nine Mile Forest, town of Rib Mountain. In the letter, McBain complains that ATC and Wisconsin Public Service contractors have been using Red Bud Road for construction access instead of, as agreed to, CTH KK and Fawn Road. “Marathon County has not granted permission for ATC (American Transmission Company) to utilize Red Bud Road in any way as an access road, and you are hereby notified to immediately stop using Red Bud Road,” writes McBain. McBain says that Red Bud Road is not built to withstand use by overweight cranes, heavy trucks and other construction equipment. The administrator writes that the county is “extremely concerned” about the location of a transmission pole so close to Red Bud Road that it would pose “a serious safety hazard for motorists.” The pole’s location also violates the county highway utility policy. McBain says that the county refuses to accept responsibility for protecting the transmission pole and requests that, if ATC is unwilling to move the pole, it rebuild Red Bud Road in a more suitable location.|
Power-line timber cut angers landowners
By Jessica Bock
Wausau Daily Herald
Wisconsin Public Service is attempting to reach settlements with landowners who say crews disposed of valuable timber from trees cleared from their properties to make way for the Arrowhead-Weston power line.
Landowners are upset because crews chipped and hauled away trees despite the fact the owners wanted to keep the lumber. Several landowners contacted the district attorney's office about the timber theft, launching an investigation by the Marathon County Sheriff's Department.
|What we knew: Work began in August in Marathon
County on the Arrowhead-Weston power line, angering some landowners who
have been court-ordered to allow the power line to cross their properties.
What's new: The Sheriff's Department is investigating timber theft
complaints from landowners who say valuable wood belonging to them was
chipped and hauled away without their approval.
WPS has learned of eight landowners who complained of trees that were
improperly removed, spokeswoman Kelly Zagrzebski said.
The company has come to an agreement with two landowners for compensation of the timber's value and still was working on negotiations with two others on Thursday. The others refuse to speak with WPS, she said.
"We made an error, and we've tried to correct it," Zagrzebski said.
Troy Blanchard is an Edgar landowner trying to reach an agreement with WPS after some of the wood from his property was chipped by crews and taken away.
"We're working on it," said Blanchard, 36. "I'm told it was worth between $2,000 and $4,000."
Wisconsin Public Service is the main contractor involved in construction of the 345,000-volt power line, which will run from Rothschild to Duluth, Minn. The American Transmission Co. will own the power line.
The state Public Service Commission first approved the project in 2001, and in 2003 unanimously reapproved the 210-mile Arrowhead-Weston project. Conservation groups, such as Save Our Unique Lands, or SOUL, have opposed the power line for years. The group advocates the use of smaller generating units to produce power instead of transmitting it over large transmission lines.
Crews began surveying land for the power line in August in Marathon County, and recently began clearing trees and digging holes for the power line's poles.
Landowners' own the rights to the timber cut from their property, Marathon County Sheriff's Capt. Randy Hillman said.
Crews had to contact the Sheriff's Department when work first began in August because of threats to workers. One man reportedly fired shots in the air near where crews were surveying in August.