BPEA Interim Report on Xcel Energy Bayfield 2nd Circuit Transmission Project

Background:

In 2009 Bayfield County reviewed its process for making decisions about electric utility improvements as part of developing the county’s comprehensive plan. As a result of that work, the county adopted two policies in 2010:

  • Become more involved with public utility companies in planning and development of services within Bayfield County and the surrounding area by meeting with representatives of utility companies to seek system upgrades in a timely and cost-effective manner when they are necessary
  • Utility improvements shall balance environmental factors with the need to rehabilitate and expand services and/or utility networks.

Since the adoption of those policies, two significant utility system infrastructure changes have been presented to Bayfield County communities. One was the Bayfield Electric Cooperative’s installation of a solar garden, an improvement that received widespread discussion and that is consistent with the county’s sustainability objectives.

Another was the rebuilding of Xcel Energy’s transmission line from Ashland to Bayfield County’s west border in 2011. That process required significant legal wrangling on the part of the Town of Eileen because Xcel Energy’s proposal was filed with the state Public Service Commission without extensive advance planning with the local community.

In 2013 Xcel Energy held several local meetings to discuss increasing the capacity of the “Bayfield Loop” transmission line extending from Fish Creek west of Ashland to Bayfield, South Shore communities and Iron River. At one point in this process, Xcel Energy’s staff told local communities that the proposed rebuild was for a 115kV transmission line and the existing right away was identified as the preferred option for routing the new line.

In 2017, Xcel Energy came forward with a different proposal that covers only a portion of the previous proposal, extending from Fish Creek to Bayfield. This proposal is for a 34.5 kV line and only 4 of the 22-mile of this line would follow the existing right-of-way follows Xcel’s existing 50-foot wide right-of-way and the other 18 miles would require new right of way clear-cutting and will affect a considerable number of private and public properties.

A group of local citizens and town officials affected by the new proposed Xcel Bayfield 2nd Circuit Transmission Project requested the Bayfield County Board to delay a decision about an easement through County Forest land for this project so that citizens could have time to study and provide input in the planned transmission line. On September 19, 2017, the decision on the easement was delayed by the Bayfield County Board until January 30, 2018.

 

Citizen Involvement:

Bayfield County citizens then created an informal organization called Bayfield Peninsula Energy Alternatives (BPEA) with the following mission:

To review, research and promote energy alternatives for the generation and transmission of electricity in the Bayfield Peninsula especially as they relate to the Xcel Bayfield 2nd Circuit Project. 

A website (bayfieldenergyalternatives.org) was created for public information on meeting dates and times, questions for Xcel, informative articles, etc.  Representatives from each of the five affected townships were invited to participate and all meetings were open to the public.

 

Action:

BPEA has had direct communication with Xcel representatives, Cheq Bay Renewables, Bayfield Electric Cooperative, the local chapter of the Citizens Climate Lobby, Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission and other organizations.  In most cases, there was little knowledge about the Xcel Bayfield 2nd Circuit Transmission Project.  Cheq Bay Renewables had a solar energy generation project in the planning phase, and a submarine transmission line from Ashland to Washburn.  BPEA studied these options at length cooperatively, including communicating with Durocher Marine, the company that installed the cable between Bayfield and Madeline Island.  When questions were presented to Xcel for discussion, they were not adequately answered.

Through a series of more than a dozen public meetings and small work group meetings, BPEA carefully considered different aspects of the Xcel Bayfield 2nd Circuit Project plan and generated an extensive list of questions for Xcel staff.  Though Xcel replied with a “FAQ” document, questions were grouped with general answers and future reports were promised.

To date, (at the time of the writing of this report) Xcel has not responded adequately or thoroughly to questions about the proposed route.  BPEA is attempting to consider the county’s policies for major changes in utility infrastructure, but thus far, the group is still waiting for Xcel to provide critical information such as:

  • What routes were evaluated in developing the proposed new right-of-way?
  • Why did the 2013 proposal from Xcel identify the existing transmission right-of-way as the “preferred option” for routing a 115KV line but it is now not considered a viable option for the 34.5KV proposed line?
  • What are the pros and cons of the different routes, and the criteria used for the selection of this route?
  • What is the determination of need and when will Xcel supply the “comprehensive planning study” promised to be “available this fall”?
  • What are the present numbers and trends in electricity use and peak loads for Washburn and Bayfield?
  • What is Xcel’s long-range plan for the rest of the peninsula loop that runs through the South Shore communities to Iron River?
  • At what time is an upgrade of the transmission line to South Shore communities expected?
  • Why not consider solar generation of electricity to help address peak demand and/or outages?
  • Why not consider an underwater line from Ashland to Washburn?
  • How can this upgrade to local transmission be designed to best support a future where significantly more electrical generation will be from decentralized renewable sources?

Future:

BPEA will continue to pursue more clarity about the energy needs and the existing Xcel Project Proposal, develop a set of criteria for route evaluation, explore opportunities for generation from renewable sources and consider alternative transmission routes.

BPEA is encouraging the County Board to invite Xcel Energy to collaborate more fully with the Bayfield County, local municipalities, and citizens in a coordinated rather than a piecemeal planning process so that, as was the case with Bayfield Electric Cooperative, local communities can be a partner in planning for changes in infrastructure such as this project.

Considering the substantial community, economic, and environmental impacts of a new transmission line right-of-way, we ask the county to request, in partnership with local municipalities and citizens, a holistic review of proposed infrastructure changes before acting on such individual parts of the proposal as access through county lands and changes to electric substations.

Only by proactive collaboration with utility companies can we hope to achieve the county’s 2010 Comprehensive Plan’s goals:

Bayfield County Comprehensive Plan, 2010

Chapter 10: Utilities and Community Facilities

Goal: Utility improvements shall be planned in a collaborative way with surrounding jurisdictions (p.167).

Objective: Become more involved with public utility companies in planning and development of services within Bayfield County and the surrounding area.

  • Meet with representatives of utility companies to seek system upgrades in a timely and cost-effective manner when they are necessary.

Objective: utility improvements shall balance environmental factors with the need to rehabilitate and expand services and/or utility networks.

 

Chapter 11: Intergovernmental Cooperation

Assessment of Future Conditions (p.175)

In the future, it is hoped that an open and continuous dialog between the Bayfield County, towns, municipalities, and other governmental jurisdictions will result in cooperative and mutually beneficial efforts. These efforts are critical to the future planning and development of public and shared services and open communications. Without the coordination and cooperation of local governmental jurisdictions, decisions critical to preserving and enhancing local and regional characteristics, activities, and natural resources will be compromised.

 

Chapter 12: Implementation

Sustainability Implementation (p.180)

Action: work to reduce the emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases

Action: eliminate energy-related impacts on the aquatic and terrestrial environment and on habitat and biodiversity.

Action: generate 25% of electricity and transportation fuels from renewable energy

Action: Capture 10% of emerging bio-industry and renewable energy market by 2030

Action: Promote public awareness regarding the benefits of increased energy conservation, energy efficiency, and renewable energy use throughout Bayfield County

 

Legacy Communities Green Tier Charter:

As approved by the Bayfield County Board of Supervisors:

“The term ‘sustainability’ means local governments addressing the needs of the present while not compromising the ability of future generations to address their needs.  It encompasses a broad framework of interrelated issues that includes environmental stewardship, economic growth, public health, and social equity.”

 

Travel Green Wisconsin:

Statement of Sustainability-

Our residents love where we live and want to make sure that our incredible natural resources are here for everyone to enjoy for future generations; Therefore, you will see a tremendous commitment to sustainable practices in our everyday lives.”

 

Educational opportunity regarding this issue:

UW-Extension, Cheq Bay Renewables, and the City of Ashland is sponsoring a six-part series on renewable energy.  This series came about, in part, as a response to the Xcel Bayfield 2nd Circuit Transmission Project.  The first session focuses on the electric transmission system and will be at the Northern Great Lakes Visitor Center, at 6:30pm on Thursday, November 30.

 

 

 

 

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