Wisconsin Electricity Situation

First and foremost I would like to thank Jonthan for inviting me to become a part of Chicago Boyz.  I have admired this blog for a long time and am looking forward to being a contributor.  I have written for a while over at my “home base”, Life In The Great Midwest.  We have three contributors over there and write on a variety of topics.  I will keep most of my “cat blogging” over there and try to post some of the more serious issues that I write about here.

 One of the topics we spend a lot of time on at LITGM is energy.  My co-contributor Carl is what I would consider an expert in the field, having spent many years in various roles that have had to do with energy.  My post here about the current situation in Wisconsin is in response to his recent post about the woes of Illinois. 

Carl has documented in detail the train wreck that is the electricity situation in the state of Illinois. It is almost like watching the Titanic sink in slow motion. Here in Wisconsin we are quietly going the other way. I would like to point out a few things that are being done here in the state. I have mentioned in past writings that we have a great utility here in this area, MGE (Madison Gas and Electric), and have written about their marketing prowess. Elsewhere in the state we are making strides forward to update our transmission grid, install new power plants and are trying to figure out how we will provide power for future generations.

I will admit that I am not an expert in this field like Carl so I will defer to him in the comments to correct my usage of a word or if I say something flat out wrong. I am simply making observations.

To start off, we need to discuss one of the main players in this scenario, the American Transmission Company, or ATC. They are the owners of the transmission network for portions of Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois and Michigan. I like their front page – right at the top is their slogan “when your community grows, electricity usage grows”. That pretty much sums it up, even for the most dense person on the planet. As we keep building and growing, we HAVE to create updated transmission systems to get power to these places. ATC is in the news a lot around here as their fights with NIMBYs, Greens and others typically command a spot in the paper. They always get the job done. ATC seems to have a very good ability to know when to give up on a project and/or change the way the project needs to get done. They typically don’t get too much negative press in the mainstream papers and newscasts. It is almost amazing that they get so much done in this climate of hate for utilities that is fostered by greens and leftists. Anyone who knows Madison and the area understands what I am saying. We aren’t called the Berkeley of the Midwest for nothing. You would think that more nasty ink would be spilled on these usually hated utility companies, but the truth is that both MGE and ATC move forward with relative ease.

Here is an article on just some of the projects going on in the county Madison is located, Dane County. I will note that the ATC spokesperson says that these upgrades will buy them time for larger projects. I bet that a very major overhaul may be in the works for the next decade. But at least they are doing something. And anything you can get done in a hostile business climate such as there is in Dane County is impressive.

Here is something very interesting from last Thursday. An editorial in the Wisconsin State Journal excoriating a Dane County Board Member for giving ATC a hard time in upgrading the area’s transmission. I like this quote in the editorial:

…”The line is also a step needed to eventually import green electricity,generated by wind power in Iowa, Minnesota and the Dakotas.”

Heh, verbal jiu jitsu if I have ever seen it. Basically the paper calling a Green a hypocrite for not allowing ATC to bring in environmentally sound power.

The Arrowhead-Weston line has seen its share of controversy. To understand what ATC has to deal with, take a look at this site. Yikes. Scary and full of misinformation. I like the baby monitor thing. Whenever you have an issue with something and you need a home run talking point, always make something up about babies. This line is being constructed to bring cheap juice down from a hydro project in Canada. Well, ATC got it done. Here is a very interesting site on the project. Note that only 26% of the line was run on new rights of way. The rest is either on existing rights of way or is lines that are being rebuilt.

In June of last year approval was given for ATC to rebuild and upgrade two transmission areas in central and northern Wisconsin. This was to help transmit from an upgrade (500mW) of the Weston power plant. According to the article this also takes pressure off of the Appleton/Green Bay transmission area.

There are a lot more projects that have been recently been approved for ATC here in Wisconsin and you can Google them for yourself if you are interested. Just the simple fact that they can get these projects off the ground in the face of intense NIMBY and Green opposition is a miracle in and of itself. I really think we are on the right track here in Wisconsin as far as transmission goes. Now on to generation.

As Carl has mentioned there are three things needed for effective power movement. Generation, Transmission and Distribution. Generation is probably even more opposed by Greens and NIMBYs than transmission.

This was refreshing a while ago. Talk of starting a new nuclear facility has begun. It is only talk, but even mentioning it is a good first step. Here is a map of our current nukes. The three nukes we have here in the state provide TWENTY percent of our power. Note that Southern Wisconsin sucks off of the Byron nuclear plant as well. Another nuke would really take pressure off of the current natural gas/coal plants that we have here in the state and would make us more self sufficient.

We burn a lot of coal here in Wisconsin, which doesn’t really bother me too much. The newer and upgraded coal burning technology is much cleaner than it used to be.

The Racine coal fired plant was to be doubled in capacity, then NIMBYS and of all people Lisa Madigan, Atty. General of Illinois filed suit to get the project stopped. Nice to know that Lisa doesn’t have anything better to do with her time than get involved in issues that don’t have anything to do with her state. Anyway, check out this quote from Lisa Madigan, the power expert:

She has called the proposal “an outdated, environmentally destructive plant design that Illinois has banned for more than 30 years.”

Even the person with the slightest interest in the subject knows that today’s coal fired plants burn much cleaner than their ancestors. What a disservice she provides her constituents by reading off of Sierra Club pamphlets when addressing important issues such as these.

But in late June, the Wisconsin Supreme Court smacked down ALL of the challenges and the project will be moving forward. Note that the court reversed a DANE COUNTY court decision that effectively halted the expansion of the plant. The enviros intentionally moved the jurisdiction of the case to a super liberal area of the state to suit their needs. Didn’t work. Funny that SC Johnson is one of the entities that filed the suit – seems Sam didn’t want more coal burned in his neighborhood of Racine. It would be interesting to see what type of lifestyle Mr. Johnson lives and to take a look at his personal carbon footprint.

This article states that Wisconsin is building more coal fired plants than anyone in the US, including that one in Racine, the largest plant of its kind. This is all good news for the future for us here in the state.

It seems that some people would love to have a new power plant in their back yard. Alliant back in February started to seek permission to build a new 300mW coal fired facility in Cassville. The people there, according to the article, would love to see a plant in their backyard. The opposition to that plant would need to move the jurisdiction of the court cases to friendlier places (like Dane County) to get it stopped. I like this from the article.

“I’ve got a place in northern Wisconsin. And I saw all the ‘No Line’ signs (opposing the Wausau-Duluth power line),” Okey said. “You don’t have that in Cassville. We’re going to have a parade – a welcoming parade.” The village’s two power plants, one operated by Alliant and another by a subsidiary of Green Bay-based WPS Resources Corp., are key employers in Cassville. The Nelson Dewey power plant on the Mississippi River employs 58 people, and Alliant projects hiring another 35 workers to operate the new plant. That doesn’t include construction jobs that the project would create, Okey said.”

Well then.

I really can’t comment on the distribution portion of our power issues here in Wisconsin, except for my area. MGE is the main distributor and they are a modern marvel to be able to operate in liberal, anti business areas and maintain a great public perception. I can’t say enough about them. For more on this, I suggest an earlier article I wrote on this subject here.

I have given a lot of links above for you to read. You can get more from the Google if you are interested. For whatever reason, it seems that Wisconsin is light years ahead of Illinois when it comes to planning for the future with our electrical usage. I would love to see us someday have extra capacity and be able to actually SELL power to other states. As it is from what I have read we still import about 20% or so. That number will probably go down as in the next five years a lot of new plants are coming on line.

Cross posted at LITGM.

8 thoughts on “Wisconsin Electricity Situation”

  1. Local monopoly – Madison Gas and Electric has the distribution here. There are others that have the distribution outside of Madison. Alliant Energy has a lot of the rural areas in Southern Wisconsin and is a pretty big player in the big picture.

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