Plans for a major high-voltage power line to the Madison area from western Wisconsin took a big step forward on Tuesday.

American Transmission Co. and Xcel Energy filed an application with state regulators to build the Badger Coulee transmission line, a project first disclosed in 2010. The proposed 345-kilovolt line would bring electricity from the La Crosse area to a substation in the town of Middleton.

The 159- to 182-mile line would cost from $514 million to $552 million to build, the utilities estimate.

At the south end, the line would hook up with the Rockdale-West Middleton transmission line that extended across Dane County and went live in February.

At the north end, it would connect with CapX2020, a series of more than 700 miles of transmission lines from the Dakotas to Wisconsin.

“This line is a very important project for ATC and Xcel Energy,” ATC spokeswoman Kaya Freiman said. “It’s additional interstate connections into Wisconsin, which improves access not only to more energy but to more renewable energy. It also connects western Wisconsin with the south-central Wisconsin area.”

Two routes are proposed for the line, with few changes from the paths presented a year ago and subjected to a series of public hearings that drew more than 6,500 people and elicited more than 3,400 written comments.

The 182-mile northern route follows the Interstate from northern Dane County to Black River Falls, west to Blair and then south to Holmen. More than 90 percent runs along existing utility, Interstate or other highway corridors. A portion of this route, from the Middleton area to north of Lyndon Station, is designated as a preferred route.

• The 159-mile southern route heads north near the Interstate to Portage, then northwest along Highway 16. At Lyndon Station, it turns west, through Elroy to Cashton, then north to Rockland and west along I-90 to Onalaska and then to Holmen. About 60 percent follows shared corridors.

In Dane County, an alternative option was added along the southern route for a small segment in the Middleton area.

Opponents were quick to respond in a joint news release, calling for alternatives such as conservation and more use of renewable energy instead of adding to the transmission grid.

“Expanding transmission and centralized power does not fit with the image most people have of the energy future,” said Mauston dairy farmer Jane Powers. “Building these lines across the state would be like us spending billions on expanding land line phone service as we move more and more toward cellular phones.”

More than 90 municipalities and 2,000 citizens have signed petitions asking the Wisconsin Public Service Commission to compare the costs and benefits of the big transmission line to energy alternatives, opponents said.

Sen. Dale Schultz, R-Richland Center, agrees: “Before we acquiesce to Wall Street investors on how and where billions of our utility rate dollars will go, we, the Wisconsin community, can look at alternatives to putting all our eggs in the grid build-out basket,” Schultz said in the news release.

The decision on Badger Coulee will have “profound consequences on Wisconsin’s energy future,” said Rob Danielson, secretary of the energy planning and information committee in the Vernon County town of Stark.

The Citizens Utility Board has not yet determined its position on the issue, said Kira Loehr, general counsel and acting executive director, contacted separately on Tuesday. “We expect to review the application to determine whether the benefits to Wisconsin ratepayers outweigh their share of the costs,” Loehr said.

MISO, the Midcontinent Independent System Operator, a Carmel, Ind., organization that governs the electricity flow over 15 states and Manitoba, Canada, has designated Badger Coulee a “multi-value project,” which means it is important to the entire Midwest, so the project cost will be divided among ratepayers across the region.

The PSC is expected to take until 2015 to review the proposal, analyze its environmental impact, decide if it is needed, and if so, which route to take, Freiman said. If approved, construction would likely start in 2016 and the line could be in service in 2018.

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