How Construction Projects Are Approved

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As populations grow and infrastructure wears out, new power plants, water treatment facilities, and transmission lines are needed to replace old ones and to handle increased demand. Developers, utilities, and transmission companies that want to build new construction projects must apply for PSC approval. The PSC’s role is to protect the ratepayers that will ultimately pay for construction projects; it will only approve new construction projects that are necessary and have reasonable costs and environmental impacts.

It generally takes six months to a year for a construction project to be approved. This timeline depends on the size and complexity of the project and the type of certificate sought by the applicant.

Types of Certification

There are two kinds of certificates that Wisconsin utilities or independent developers must obtain prior to constructing large electric or natural gas projects. The nature of the proposed project determines which certification is applicable to a specific proposal.

  1. ​Certificate of Authority (CA): any construction project that meets the review threshold based on size and cost​ of the project.
  2. Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity​ (CPCN): required for proposed electric generation facilities of 100 or more megawatts (MW) and proposed high-voltage electric transmission lines of 100 kV or more.

Learn More

To learn about the process for a specific type of case, see the following publications:

Anyone can follow a construction case and give input on proposed construction projects. Opportunities to participate range from offering a comment on the PSC’s website on up to participating in a formal, trial-type hearing.

Learn how to participate in a case using the button below:

Public Participation

Steps in a Construction Case

Select a step below to jump to more detail on a step in the approval process.

  1. 1. Public Information Meetings Organized by Applicant

  2. 2. Application

  3. 3. Public Notification

  4. 4. PSC Scoping Meetings (CPCN only)

  5. 5. Environmental Review

  6. 6. Hearings

  7. 7. Decision

1. Public Information Meetings Organized by the Applicant

Before filing its application with the PSC, a developer, utility, or transmission company that wants to build a new construction project might host a public information meeting. You can attend these meetings to learn about the preliminary design of a proposed project and give input directly to the applicant.

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2. Application

The developer, utility, or transmission company officially kicks off the construction case when it files an application. This is when the PSC opens a docket for the construction case. Generally, an application includes information about the need, cost, size, and location of the proposed project. Applications for proposed power plants of 100 or more megawatts (MW), and proposed high-voltage electric transmission lines of 345 kV or more, must include information for two or more sites or routes, detailed engineering plans, plant costs (public utilities only), and a review of potential environmental and community impacts. Non-utility power plant applicants are exempt from a “needs” test and from demonstrating how their engineering specifications are better than available alternatives.

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3. Public Notification

Upon receiving the application, the PSC notifies the public. The PSC sends a public notification letter to all property owners on or near the potential sites, as well as local government officials, local libraries, the media, and other agencies and interested persons. This letter briefly describes the project; includes a map; identifies the level of environmental review the project will require; lists places where copies of the application are available for review; and gives contact information for comments and questions.

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4. PSC Scoping Meetings (CPCN only)

The PSC often hosts project scoping meetings to give the public a chance to learn about the proposed project, ask questions, and talk directly with the utility, Department of Natural Resources (DNR) staff, or PSC staff. Meetings may be held multiple times during the construction case.

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5. Environmental Review

PSC staff investigates the potential impacts of the application.

This results in a PSC staff determination to:

  1. prepare an Environmental Assessment (EA),
  2. prepare an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), or
  3. take no further review.

These documents are posted in the case file on the PSC website. The PSC might hold a public hearing on a draft EIS. PSC staff provides opportunities for the public to comment at various stages of it review, and notifies the public when it is accepting such comments and how to file them. The PSC will hold a hearing on a final EIS. As a result of this process PSC staff may propose changes in project design or site location to protect the environment or an affected community.

The Department of Natural Resources (DNR) will also review an application for air, solid waste, water quality, and water discharge permits. When an application requires a permit from the DNR, PSC staff and the DNR cooperate in the environmental review process.

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6. Hearings

The PSC holds hearings on the application (and any final EIS) depending on the size and cost of the project. The PSC sends a Notice of Hearing to parties to the case, and landowners in the project area. At the hearings the PSC will receive “for the record” testimony and exhibits from parties to the case testimony and comment from members of the public. The PSC also accepts written comments from the public. Learn all about how to participate here:

Public Participation

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7. Decision

After the hearing, the Commissioners review the record. In an Open Meeting, the Commissioners will discuss the issues presented and vote either to approve or deny the proposal, or approve the proposal with modifications or conditions. Following the Open Meeting, the PSC issues a written order and posts it to the docket.

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Right-of-Ways and Easements for Electric Facility

A utility applying to build a project on land it does not own may negotiate with a landowner for rights to use the land. The utility may purchase an easement to contract and operate the facility and a right-of-way for access to the facility for operation and maintenance; or the utility may purchase the land outright. The PSC provides no oversight of these negotiations. If the utility and landowner cannot reach agreement, the utility may pursue an eminent domain action in circuit court to condemn the property. For a project that requires a CPCN, statutes prevent a utility for seeking condemnation until the CPCN is approved.

For more information: