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Wisconsin consumer group questions need for electrical transmission line legislation

Electrical transmission lines on the west side of Milwaukee, near Pius XI High School.
Chuck Quirmbach
Electrical transmission lines on the west side of Milwaukee, near Pius XI High School.

Republican lawmakers are trying again with a bill that critics say would reduce potential competition for the company that helps utilities transmit electricity across eastern Wisconsin.

State Sen. Julian Bradley (R-Franklin) says what he calls the Right of Refusal bill has been reintroduced and is headed to a public hearing on Monday. Bradley says the measure would keep control of new long-range transmission projects away from federal regulators and out-of-state developers.

But the Citizens Utility Board of Wisconsin (CUB) says if the measure passes, it would give too much power, if you will, to American Transmission Company, the Pewaukee firm owned by electric utilities, including We Energies.

CUB Executive Director Tom Content says the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) has been trying for a decade to encourage competitive bidding on transmission projects.

"And so, this bill would block the opportunity for competitive bidding as remove that as an option to save money for customers," Content tells WUWM.

Content says in other states, competitive bidding has cut the cost of new transmission projects by at least 30 percent. Consumers don't pay for cost over-runs. He says the transmission line builder does.

"And the context for this, or the background for all this, is that there is a suite of new projects that the Midwest grid operator has authorized for the whole region-- estimated cost of over 10 billion dollars. And about two billion dollars of those projects are designated for Wisconsin," Content says.

Bradley argues more federal oversight over transmission projects would mean delays in completing them.

Bradley's bill is getting another chance at the State Capitol, as the Public Service Commission of Wisconsin (PSC) holds hearings in Milwaukee Monday afternoon and evening on We Energies request to raise residential electricity rates by three percent.

CUB says it hopes the PSC puts a big dent in the utility's proposal.

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