Local governments would be forced to sell public land to utilities for power line routes under a GOP-authored bill the [Wisconsin] state Assembly passed Thursday.
The bill is designed to make Douglas County officials give up public land for American Transmission Company’s $420 million high-voltage power line, Democrats said. The line will stretch from Duluth, Minn., to Wausau.
The County Board voted in February not to negotiate with ATC over county land the company wants for 2.5 miles of the line. ATC filed a lawsuit this week in Douglas County Circuit Court asking a judge for the land.
Major state utilities, including Alliant Energy, Madison Gas & Electric and Wisconsin Public Service, have lobbied lawmakers to pass the bill, according to state Ethics Board records.
“They’re hell-bent on getting this power line through,” Douglas County Board Chairman Douglas Finn said.
ATC communications director Randy Satterfield, a lead lobbyist for the bill, said state law forces utilities to consider building projects along established routes, such as existing power lines, railroads or highways, before looking at private land. Most of those existing corridors lie on public land, he said.
Wisconsin needs the additional power the line will bring in, he added. Douglas County’s move has forced the company to re-plot the route, costing time and ratepayers’ money, he said. The company has since submitted two alternate routes to state regulators in which the line would cut through private land of 20 to 50 different owners.
“This bill is terribly important for the people of Wisconsin,” he said. “It’s going to ensure the work we have to do ... can get done on time and on budget without affecting more private landowners than it needs to.”
The Republican-controlled Assembly passed the measure 61-35. The state Senate, also controlled by the GOP, also must pass the bill and Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle must sign it before it can become law.
Doyle spokeswoman Melanie Fonder said the governor “generally” supports the bill.
“The governor wants to make sure Wisconsin has a secure supply of energy. We want to ensure the line is going to be built and that fair market value is paid for the land,” Fonder said.