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Utilities split over permit process changes for transmission lines

Maureen McCollum

Wisconsin Public Radio

Utility companies in Wisconsin are split on support of a bill that could change the way the Department of Natural Resources issues permits for transmission line projects.

When a utility or transmission company wants to build power lines, part of the process involves getting permits from the DNR. The agency examines the project to determine if a project affects navigable waterways or there will be environmental impacts.

The proposed bill could change that process by requiring the DNR to grant or deny a permit within 30 days — a process that now can take months. The bill would only allow the DNR one opportunity to request more information on a project.

Xcel Energy and Dairyland Power Cooperative support the bill. Xcel regional government affairs director Matt Pagel said it would help streamline the permitting process and save time.

“We’re not trying to restrict the amount of information,” said Pagel. “But if we keep going down the information path, it takes longer to site, which then costs more money, which we pass on to ratepayers.”

Not all utilities are on board. WE Energies, Alliant Energy, and Madison Gas & Electric oppose the bill. Some say the system works just fine now.

American Transmission Company owns most of the state’s power lines. Spokesperson Anne Spaltholz said they’re concerned the bill could reduce the DNR’s involvement in the permitting process, which could have environmental implications.

“This legislation could possibly undo the successful coordination that currently occurs among the DNR, the (Public Service Commission) applicants, and the public when siting and routing transmission lines and getting approval for those,” said Spaltholz.

Bill supporters say it would not reduce environmental regulations.