Citing the need for local and regional transmission reliability and affordability, Wisconsin’s Public Service Commission (PSC) last week voted to grant a Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity for an approximately 48-mile 345 kV electric transmission line between Alma, Wis., and Holmen, Wis., that is part of the $2 billion CapX2020 initiative.

The CapX2020 Hampton-Rochester-La Crosse project has been proposed to provide local reliability benefits to the La Crosse and Winona areas as well as to the rural Wisconsin areas of Buffalo, Trempealeau, and La Crosse counties. It will also enhance regional reliability and increase access to lower cost renewable energy by providing a 345 kV link between Wisconsin and Minnesota, its developers said.

PSC Chair Phil Montgomery and Commissioners Eric Callisto and Ellen Nowak unanimously agreed regional benefits coupled with local need merited construction of the project when deciding to issue the permit.

The CapX2020 Hampton-Rochester-La Crosse 345 kV project has been identified in numerous state and regional planning studies. Experts testifying at the PSC’s technical hearings in March said that a transmission deficit exists in the La Crosse area. The project is also expected to address regional deficiencies identified by regional grid operator Midwest ISO, which concluded that if the project isn’t constructed, substantial overloading of existing transmission in Wisconsin, Iowa, and Minnesota could occur.

The PSC approved a modified Q1-Galesville route, which follows about 27 miles of the existing 60-year-old Dairyland Power Cooperative 161 kV line near Highway 35. The Q1-Galesville route was modified in the Holmen area. The approved route connects the Q1-Galesville route to the Q1-Highway 35 route with a new half-mile segment along a property line just north of the Highway 35 and Highway 53 interchange. The route modification generally avoids a future Holmen development area and would parallel Highway 53 for three miles into the new Briggs Road substation near Holmen.

The Rural Utilities Service is expected to issue the federal Environmental Impact Statement, which covers the entire project, in June; federal approval is expected this fall, followed by a construction start in Minnesota in early 2013 and in Wisconsin in late 2013. The Hampton-Rochester-La Crosse project is scheduled to be energized in 2015. With the modified Galesville route, the estimated project cost in Wisconsin is $210 million, and the overall project cost is approximately $500 million.

Partners in the CapX2020 Hampton-Rochester-La Crosse 345 kV project include Dairyland Power Cooperative, Rochester Public Utilities, Southern Minnesota Municipal Power Agency, WPPI Energy, and Xcel Energy. CapX2020 is a joint initiative of 11 investor-owned, cooperative and municipal utilities in Minnesota and the surrounding region. The total project includes three 345 kV transmission lines and a 230 kV line and represents “the largest development of new transmission in the Upper Midwest in 30 years,” its developers say. The total project is expected to cost nearly $2 billion and cover a distance of more than 700 miles.

Sources: POWERnews, Wisconsin PSC, CapX2020