Do expansion transmission lines save potential pennies a month or not?
The 40 year, non-guaranteed benefits from Cardinal Hickory Creek are of special interest because 85% of the $500+ million cost would be paid up by electric customers in neighboring states.
On Friday April 19, the Public Service Commission of Wisconsin elected to not support a request made by Public Intervenor SOUL of Wisconsin asking transmission builders to explain potential impacts of the Cardinal Hickory Creek (CHC) transmission proposal on monthly electric bills.
The motion was part of increasing concern about ratepayer accountability in Wisconsin. Last month, five state legislators asked the Commission to tell ratepayers what benefits, if any, were generated from the first seven expansion transmission lines added in Wisconsin.
[INARTICLEAD]In 2000, the PSC asked that ratepayer level impacts be studied for controversial Arrowhead-Weston transmission line between Superior and Wausau. In 2009, the transmission builders volunteered to estimate impacts on bills for the Madison Belt Line 345 kV proposal.
Two weeks before the hearing on the 19th, PSC Administrative Law Judge Michael Newmark, asked the PSC staff to consider making the request of the transmission builders themselves. At hear on the 19th, technical staff reported succinctly, “We don’t need the information for our purposes. We use PVRR (Present Value Revenue Requirements).” When the Judge observed that ratepayer level impacts could be included in the PSC’s high voltage transmission line application requirements later in discussion, his suggestion received no staff comment.
SOUL explained how the same, requested ratepayer impact information had been provided ratepayers in 2009. Judge Newmark asked transmission builders why they could not, again, take the lump sum of benefits they create for all high voltage line proposals, divide them up and give electric customers an idea of what the impacts would be for this proposal too? ATC legal counsel replied that Cardinal Hickory Creek is different; that it is cost-shared and has other benefits. Hearing the utilities ignore his question about lump sum benefits, the Judge asked again and builders, again replied the calculations are just too complex to make.
Given that builders had done it in the past, that a judge was pressing the question for a current public intervenor in the CHC case, the silence of the PSC at this juncture should be of great concern to Wisconsin ratepayers.
Commenting that, “appreciates where SOUL is coming from,” Judge Newmark stated that without more support from the PSC, he had no legal means to compel the applicants to conduct the analysis for ratepayers and ruled to deny SOUL’s request that ratepayers be informed.
Intervenor Gloria Belken from Montfort, Wisconsin posed, “Your honor, I am a novice at this, but could it be that the benefits are so small that ATC does not want to say what they are?”
Belken is right that millions of dollars sound impressive but when spread over 40 years and 3 million customers, a different bottom line emerges.Below is the chart that SOUL provided in their motion suggesting one way of dispersing the dollars across Wisconsin electric customers.
The controversial CHC project has brought out a record number of public intervenors in this case. Public Intervenors Joe Schwarzmann, Lila Zastrow and Dave Hendrickson were at least, morally, more successful at Friday’s hearing. The judge made Applicants redact less of their vegetation management practice manuals. Such little remains in them, Schwarzmann noted, “Are your mowing instructions being considered confidential trade secrets?”
Zastrow and Hendrickson have been working for years to enable Wisconsin property owners with transmission lines on their property to obtain a policy statement regarding ATC’s treatment of vegetation.
The 40 year, non-guaranteed benefits from Cardinal Hickory Creek are of special interest because 85% of the $500+ million cost would be paid up by electric customers in neighboring states. This means that every person in Wisconsin and across the entire midwest has rightful opportunity to share their thoughts with the PSC at the Public Hearings in Middleton, Dodgeville and Lancaster during a period from June-24 to June 28. It also means that the economic soundness of CHC benefits is very questionable if they result in pennies while only having to offset 15% of the actual cost.
Our laws dictate that private land can only be condemned unless the PSC deems a transmission line to be in the best interests of the public. How can the public consider their interests if their PSC is hesitant to stand up for such fundamental priorities? The large profile of this project and its adverse impacts on local energy goals are in no way trivial. This case before the PSC makes a big difference to everyone. Do the potential millions over 40 years average down pennies each month on residential electric bills, or not? We deserve to know and need to keep asking. ”
Attached are most of the records pertaining the ratepayer impacts matter for persons interested in more detail.