Less than a week before the city is scheduled to begin presenting testimony before the Public Service Commission on a perferred route for a power line through west Wauwatosa, it has in hand the potent supporting document it has been hoping for.
Gale Klappa, the CEO of We Energies, co-signed a letter with Mayor Kathy Ehley and Common Council President Dennis McBride concurring in an all-underground route from West 120th Street to the County Grounds.
Klappa's support is seen as a powerful message to the PSC and possibly critical to persuading the commissioners to choose the city's preferred but more expensive route over one proposed by American Transmission Co., which will construct the line.
In June, City Attorney Alan Kesner recommended the route, which passes down Walnut Road, and said that it would be supported by Milwaukee County, which is an intervening party along with the city.
Kesner asked then that the Common Council take a resolution in support of the route, so that the intervenors would be in concert. He said that without consensus, it was unlikely the PSC would accept it.
He also was quoted as saying that he even had some hope that We Energies itself, which provides and sells the power, would show some support for the choice.
Afterward, he told Wauwatosa Patch, We Energies contacted him and told him that was not in the cards – the company woud remain silent on the matter of routes.
A change of heart from a powerful ally
So it came as a surprise when Klappa signed a first letter of support for an all-buried second power line coming in from the south. That route had been proposed by ATC with overhead lines in Milwaukee passing immediately in front of Milwaukee Montessori School, which strongly opposed the plan.
The City of Milwaukee backed the school with a resolution and, with consensus from all other parties, saw Klappa give it his approval.
Kesner was then able to hold up that letter as ammunition in his campaign to get agreement on his proposal for the Walnut Road route. If the head of the power company was willing to stand with local intervenors in Milwaukee against overhead lines there, he would likely do so here.
But Wauwatosa had to stake its position, Kesner said. Klappa could not possibly support independently what Wauwatosa would not adopt in consensus. Kesner finally got his resolution of support from the council on Sept. 18.
The baseline for the PSC is to protect power rate-payers' pockets by ordering the least-cost alternative. But compelling reasons from interested parties can and have swayed commissioners to choose more costly alternatives.
For Klappa to sign on with Wauwatosa is almost akin to going over the heads of his counterparts at ATC. Until 10 years ago, We Energies built its own power lines, but then spun off ATC as a separate company to do the work. However, We Energies is still a major shareholder of ATC.
While nothing can compel the PSC to choose any particular route or method of installation, Kesner has said all along that he believed that if all parties opposed to overhead lines could agree on a single, proactive proposal, the city stood a good chance of getting the PSC's blessing.
With Klappa's signature, Wauwatosa got much more support than it had bargained for in the beginning.