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Fortnightly Magazine - January 2006

have a huge maintenance follow-up if you wind up that way. So it’s a little higher first cost, but life cycle-wise it has a huge present value effect. So cost is one of the two chief drivers.

The other is aesthetics. We have these areas where for some good reason—it’s not run-of-the-mill—we need to do something out of the norm in terms of sagging or tensioning.

Fortnightly: What constitutes “out of the norm”?

MCW: Wisconsin has a lot of both federally and state-protected wetland forest, natural scenic areas that are at the very high end of environmental protection characteristics. In areas where we have to reduce visual impacts or the number of poles, we put increased span length. As an aside, our highest voltage in Wisconsin is about a 900-foot pole-to-pole span. With these exotic conductors we can get as much as 2,500 feet span-to-span, so you’ve cut the number of poles almost in half and the cost of the wires. You save money on the pole installation and the concrete installation, but the wire is significantly more expensive than a regular wire. That’s the tradeoff, but it also reduces both the number of poles, and this wire can be tensioned up quite a bit tighter, so that you get less sagging, less clearance requirement, less visual impact.

Fortnightly: The company is coming up on its fifth anniversary. What have been the biggest changes that affect what you do during those five years?

MCW: Probably the biggest change is the recognition of the amount of highest-voltage interconnection we needed to make. We took over the [Arrowhead to Weston] project that was so controversial in Wisconsin from Wisconsin Public Service. That’s really increased our focus on construction. At the same time, the amount of new generation being sited in Wisconsin, though I suppose it was foreseeable in some ways, is a little more than any of us in the business expected. So the generation interconnection transmission has turned out to be just hugely capital intensive. And long projects—we’re talking 220 miles for Arrowhead, the projects to hook up the Green Bay company’s new coal generator at [Weston Four], about 100 total miles in the 345. There’s a big push in Wisconsin now, taking a look at the MISO regional market, to make sure Wisconsin isn’t disadvantaged in that. That’s got the potential to be another 200-mile extra high-voltage project.

So the sheer number of projects that have cropped up in the five years of existence looking at transmission-only, and finally getting to the needs of Wisconsin that have been accumulating for the last 20 years has caused us to focus more on construction and construction techniques and materials than we ever thought would happen. That’s been the biggest change in perspective at the company. We went from what we thought would be an operating company, which started that way—we’ve improved operations by any measure in terms of outages and operability—to now what is not only a top-class operating company but a first-class building company.

Fortnightly: Your latest 10 Year Assessment of system needs