Wisconsin coal plants to keep running amid reliability, supply-chain concerns | Science & Environment


Three of Wisconsin’s largest coal-fired power plants will continue operating for at least another two years.

Alliant Energy and the WEC Energy Group each announced plans Thursday to delay previously announced retirements of the Columbia Energy Center in Portage, Edgewater plant in Sheboygan County, and the South Oak Creek plant near Racine.

The companies cited reliability concerns as well as supply-chain issues that have delayed construction of solar farms.

Earlier this year the Midwest grid operator warned that capacity could fall short of demand in certain situations this summer, leading to rolling blackouts. A subsequent report of potential shortfalls next year as well.

Alliant said it will continue running its Edgewater plant, previously scheduled to close this year, until June 2025. The two generators at the Columbia plant, which had been scheduled to shut down in 2023 and 2024 will continue running until June 2026.

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“Shifting the retirement dates for our coal-fired facilities in Wisconsin helps ensure we can weather multiple uncertainties while continuing to add cleaner, renewable energy to the grid,” said David de Leon, president of Alliant’s Wisconsin utility.

Despite the delays, de Leon said Alliant remains on track to cut carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuel generation in half by 2030.

WEC said two units in the 1,100-megawatt South Oak Creek plant will now run into 2024, a year later than previously announced; Retirement of the other two will be delayed about 18 months until late 2025.

We Energies president Scott Lauber indicated the company plans to operate the plant in a limited capacity and that the company “remains committed to achieving aggressive environmental goals,” including an 80% reduction in carbon dioxide emissions by the end of 2030.

“Because we plan to operate the older units at Oak Creek largely during the days of highest customer demand, we’re confident that we can remain on track to achieve these industry-leading targets,” Lauber said.

Climate scientists say the world must cut greenhouse gas emissions in half by 2030 and eliminate them entirely by 2050 to avoid the most catastrophic effects of climate change.

Last year Alliant announced plans to shutter the 1,100-megawatt Columbia plant by 2025, saying it would avoid some $250 million in maintenance and upgrade expenses. The company is in the process of adding about 1,100 megawatts of solar generation.

WEC planned to close South Oak Creek, its oldest coal plant, by May 2024 as part of a plan to replace 1,800 megawatts of fossil fuel generation with clean energy, storage and gas.

Chairman Gale Klappa said at the time the closure could save about $50 million a year in operating costs.







South Oak Creek coal plant (copy)

WEC Energy Group has delayed retirement of its 1,100-megawatt South Oak Creek coal plant, citing reliability concerns and supply-chain issues that have delayed construction of solar farms.


CURTIS WALTZ, WEC ENERGY GROUP


Columbia, which is jointly owned by WEC subsidiary Wisconsin Public Service Corporation, Alliant and Madison Gas and Electric, is the third-largest coal plant in Wisconsin, behind WEC’s Elm Road and South Oak Creek plants.

Wisconsin’s oldest coal-fired plant, South Oak Creek is also the single largest source of toxic metals dumped into Lake Michigan, according to a Chicago Tribune analysis of federal data.

This story will be updated.

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