Powerline Generates Controversy

No one likes the idea of a major powerline running through their
backyard. But a proposed bulk transmission line in Wisconsin is
generating more than the usual amount of controversy. The Great Lakes
Radio Consortium’s Stephanie Hemphill reports:


No one likes the idea of a major power line running through their backyard.
But a proposed bulk transmission line in Wisconsin is generating more than
the usual amount of controversy. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s
Stephanie Hemphill reports:

Steve Olson will never forget the night of June 25, 1998. He was working
the overnight shift at Minnesota power’s control center when something went
very wrong.

“I really didn’t know exactly what was going on at the time but I knew it was
serious. I knew it was something bigger than Minnesota power. It’s within
a matter of a minute or two we had half a dozen lines opening.”

The open lines meant the electric grid was breaking apart. The grid
connects Minnesota power to eight states and three Canadian provinces.
lightning strikes in Wisconsin – 200 miles away – caused the breakup. Over
40,000 people lost power.

John Heino is a spokesman for Minnesota power. He says that kind of
situation is one step away from a regional blackout.

“Normally this system is designed to work together so neighboring states and
systems can support each other, but in that situation, it just breaks up
into pieces and there’s no guarantee the power plants in that area are
enough to supply the load that’s left.”

The near miss convinced Minnesota power to do something to shore up the weak
link in the regional electric grid.

The Duluth-based company joined with Wisconsin Public Service to propose a
345-kilovolt transmission line from Duluth Minnesota to Wausau Wisconsin.
It would tap into cheap coal and hydro power from western Minnesota and
Manitoba. Heino says the new link would lighten the load on existing lines
and make service more reliable.

“With all these sources to the north and the west, and you have the Twin
Cities, Milwaukee and Chicago, to the south and the east, so there’s this
general day in and day out tendency for the power to flow to the south and
the east.”

The plan has attracted a lot of opposition along the proposed route. Eight
counties and over fifty local governments have gone on record against it.

Opponents worry about property values, loss of farmland, and health issues.

(sound of meeting)

At a recent meeting in superior Wisconsin, nearly 200 angry people showed up
to confront Minnesota power officials.

Person 1: “Both of these proposed routes would go through our property. We sunk our
life savings into it and we thought we could protect it. Lo and behold,
what did we know?”

Person 2: “As far as I’m concerned, this is a dinosaur. We’re looking at smaller
leading edge technologies that are more adapted to local generation.

Person 3: “I have a very nice neighbor and the power line is going across his land

he said to me, if it comes across my land, I’ll shoot’em.

Some Wisconsin farmers oppose the line because of problems they’re having
with other electric lines. Debbie Beyrl says ground currents have made her
cows sick. That’s reduced milk production and made it harder to keep the
business going. She’s also worried about her family’s health.

“I worry about my kids because they’re in the barn helping us. And I think
it’ll put us out of business, not that we’d want to quit but I think it
would finish us off, yeah.”

Power company officials say ground currents are caused by improper wiring or
local distribution lines, not large transmission lines.

But environmentalists question the need for the line. Chris Laforge sells
wind and solar electric generating systems. He says utilities could avoid
building expensive power lines by using alternative systems.

“It’s a perfect match. Distributed photovoltaic generation on rooftops of
large buildings can meet peak air conditioning demand because electricity
gets made right when you need it.”

Power companies say there’s great potential in alternative technologies, but
the current need is acute. Jim Loock is the chief electrical engineer
at the Wisconsin Public Service Commission. That agency has the authority
to approve the line.

“Our electrical system is growing at 2-3% a year, so we need 200-300
megawatts of additional supply every year. That’s why we say part of the
equation is energy conservation and demand side management, we feel strongly
that the consumer needs to conserve energy and use it as wisely as possible.”

Hearings are scheduled this month in Minnesota and this summer in Wisconsin.
if approved, construction could start in September 2001.

For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Stephanie Hemphill.