Xcel Energy does not have to share ownership of a planned Twin Cities-to-La Crosse transmission line with a Wisconsin competitor, federal regulators ruled earlier this week.
American Transmission Company (ATC) had argued it was entitled to own part of the $490 million project in a complaint to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC).
On Monday, FERC denied ATC's complaint and said MISO, the Midwest's electricity grid operator, was correct to distribute ownership of the transmission project as it did.
The 150-mile, 345 kV line is among a group of projects known as CapX2020, an effort by eleven utilities in Minnesota and the adjacent states to improve reliability and add wind power to the grid.
MISO split up ownership of the lines based on whose service territory they cross and whose equipment they connect to — in this case Xcel and a handful of smaller cooperatives and municipal utilities.
ATC challeged MISO's decision after Xcel successfully argued to FERC that because it owns the LaCrosse substation, Xcel should own part of the Badger Coulee transmission line from LaCrosse to Madison.
The Wisconsin utility argued that the Twin Cities-to-LaCrosse and LaCrosse-to-Madison lines were essentially one project, and that as owner of the Madison substation ATC should have a share in the entire length.
FERC dismissed that arguement, saying that the two sections were separate projects, one approved in MISO's 2008 transmission plan and the other part of MISO's 2011 transmission plan.
"We are not persuaded by American Transmission’s argument that the Twin Cities – La Crosse Line and the La Crosse – Madison Line, together, form a single interconnection," FERC concluded.
Transmission lines are among the most dependable utility investments, offering solid, steady returns from the time they are built, which is why they've attracted the interest of companies like Warren Buffet's Berkshire Hathaway.
While the utilities are battling for hundreds of millions in projects, the stakes for electricity customers are considerably lower, says Chris Zumski Finke, a policy associate with Wind on the Wires.
"Really, it has very little impact on rate-payers. Even in the filings, ATC says these complaints aren't going to interfere with the development timeline, they aren't going to interfere with the costs to consumers."