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Citizens groups to challenge $500M CapX project

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Opponents of a high-voltage power line already under construction between Rochester and Holmen have launched another attempt to stop it.

Two citizens groups announced on Thursday they intend to file a complaint with federal regulators contending the $500 million project, known as CapX2020, was improperly approved.

A joint initiative of 11 utilities, including Xcel Energy and Dairyland Power Cooperative, CapX2020 is a $2.2 billion project to upgrade the Midwestern electric grid. The 780 miles of new transmission lines will include a 150-mile section of 345-kilovolt line from Hampton to a new station to be built in Holmen, Wis.

CapX2020 says the project would upgrade an outdated system, meet future demand and deliver alternative energy. Opponents argue energy demand is declining and the lines will carry coal power to the east while local customers bear the costs — an estimated $200 million for the Wisconsin portion — and suffer damage to health and property values.

Separately, Xcel and American Transmission Company also have proposed a high-voltage line, known as Badger Coulee, running from Holmen to Madison. That project has not been approved; the companies say they intend to file an application later this year with the Wisconsin Public Service Commission.

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Thursday's challenge contends the projects are inter-dependent.

As the basis of its complaint The Citizens Energy Task Force cites a 2009 Xcel Energy news release, which references a utility study that found "without a line to the east of Minnesota, the transmission system will reach a 'tipping point' where reliability is compromised."

That, said attorney Carol Overland, is proof CapX2020 is dependent upon a second line from Holmen to Madison that has yet to be approved or even officially requested.

Because the Wisconsin Public Service Commission approved CapX2020 as a stand-alone project, Overland contends it violated reliability standards established by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

Overland said the groups will request the FERC stop the Hampton-Rochester-La Crosse transmission line because "it contributes to and/or causes electrical system instability."

Project spokesman Tim Carlsgaard said on Thursday CapX planners have not seen the complaint and therefore could not comment.

Overland said she planned to file the complaint by 11:59 p.m.

Opponents previously sought to stop the line, approved by the PSC in May, through the courts, but a judge threw out the case because Overland is not licensed to practice in Wisconsin.

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Crews began construction two weeks ago on one Minnesota section of the line. Work is expected to begin this summer on a substation in Holmen.

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