Power-Line Plan Takes Blow after Douglas County, Wis.,
Denies Utility Access
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel Knight Ridder/Tribune Business
Feb. 5--Plans for a massive power line across central
and northwestern Wisconsin hit a setback after two committees
of the Douglas County Board denied a utility access to
county property along the path of the project.
The committees voted last week to deny a request by Minnesota
Power to conduct surveys and soil tests on county property
that Minnesota Power in Duluth and partner Wisconsin Public
Service Corp. in Green Bay want to use to build the 210-mile
The decision is important because the Public Service
Commission of Wisconsin has selected the route of the
line and any alterations would have to go back to the
agency. While utilities have the right to condemn private
land if necessary, they can't do the same with public
On a separate front, plans are under way on Minnesota's
Iron Range to build a 2,000-megawatt power plant -- twice
the size of Wisconsin Energy Corp.'s Point Beach nuclear
power plant -- that could supply electricity to Wisconsin.
If approved, the $2 billion plant project could begin
construction as early as this year, and could start operating
by 2006 or early 2007, according to executives of Excelsior
Energy Inc., a Minneapolis company founded by three former
Twin Cities utility executives.
As for Douglas County developments, the two utilities
said they are studying their options and hope they can
work out a agreement with county officials in Superior.
The action in Douglas County is the latest sign that
opponents are still maneuvering to block the power line,
which would run from Wausau to Duluth. The utilities said
they could face the same opposition from Marathon County
officials in Wausau.
Both the Marathon and Douglas County boards have officially
opposed the line.
Wisconsin has been facing an electricity crunch in recent
years, and the $215 million line has been viewed as part
of the solution to shoring up supplies.
In addition to building new power plants, energy planners
have said the state needs to upgrade its transmission
system to ensure that new supplies of power can move more
readily into Wisconsin.
The Minnesota power plant would be built at Hoyt Lakes,
north of Duluth, on a site formerly occupied by LTV Steel
Mining Co. It would use a process called coal gasification
to reduce air pollution.
Rather than burning coal directly, coal gasification
is a process in which coal reacts with steam and oxygen
under high pressure and temperatures to produce electricity.
"You are not taking wilderness and converting it
to industrial use," said Julie Jorgensen, a former
vice president of NRG Energy Inc. in Minneapolis and one
of the project's planners. "You are dealing with
a site that needs cleanup, but can be used to employ 1,000
people in an area that has been economically depressed."
In December, the Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation
Board committed $1.5 million to pay for an environmental
impact study of the project. Excelsior Energy would need
to raise the majority of the remaining funds from private
In addition, there are efforts in the Minnesota Legislature
to speed the approval and construction process for the
Electricity from the plant would be sold to Minneapolis-based
XCel Energy Inc., formerly known as Northern States Power
Co. NSP is the biggest utility in Minnesota, but also
serves 220,000 customers in western and northern Wisconsin.
Jorgensen stressed that Excelsior is pitching the new
plant to help close a widening gap between supply and
electricity in Minnesota -- not Wisconsin. But executives
at XCel say that any power they agree to purchase from
an independent power producer would also be made available
to its Wisconsin customers.
Although XCel has not made any formal commitment to purchase
power from Excelsior, the company has encouraged Excelsior
to participate in a competitive bidding process the utility
is using to beef up supplies by using independent power
producers, spokesman Scott Wilensky said.
By Lee Bergquist and Lee Hawkins Jr.