PSCW denies coal power plant proposal

By Anna Austin
Web exclusive posted Nov. 14, 2008 at 11:13 a.m. CST

Likely noted as a monumental step toward achieving a strong, clean energy economy in Wisconsin-and perhaps the nation-for the first time ever in state history, a coal plant proposal was rejected by state regulators.

The Public Service Commission of Wisconsin rejected a proposal by Wisconsin Power and Light Co., a subsidiary of Alliant Energy Corp., to expand its existing Nelson Dewey Generating Station in Cassville, Wis., to meet the future energy needs of its customers. Initially the circulating fluidized bed plant was designed to burn coal and petroleum coke, but Alliant Energy later committed up to 20 percent biomass.

Siting cost and environmental concerns, in a three to zero decision, the PSCW denied Wisconsin Power and Light's Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity application. The PSCW said with a $1.26 billion price tag, construction and operation of Nelson Dewey Unit 3 would not be the lowest cost option for customers. The PSCW also expressed concern regarding Nelson Dewey 3's potential greenhouse gas emissions and its impact upon the environment.

"Our company is extremely disappointed in the PSCW's decision today and the opportunities lost with it," said Barbara Swan, president of WPL. "We will need to evaluate the PSCW's decision prior to considering alternatives for our long-term generation growth strategy in Wisconsin."

In addition to the PSCW, Renew Wisconsin and Clean Wisconsin did not favor the proposed facility. "Clean Wisconsin opposed the plant because it would bring in more coal, and the inefficient design and high limestone consumption would offset any biomass benefit," said Peter Taglia, staff scientist for Clean Wisconsin, an environmental advocacy organization. "Even at 20 percent it would still have higher greenhouse gas emissions per megawatt hour than other, more efficient supercritical pulverized coal plants in the state burning 100 percent coal."

Taglia added that if the project had moved forward, it may have crowded out other renewable energy projects that would otherwise be needed by Alliant Energy to meet their renewable energy requirements. "The ruling was significant to the development of other cleaner, more efficient renewable energy projects within the state," he said. "It moves us in the right direction."

Although not advocates of this project, Taglia pointed out that Clean Wisconsin and Renew Wisconsin are pro-biomass. "Wisconsin is 70 percent dependent on coal, and both of us have endorsed the conversion of Stoneman, a 50 megawatt coal plant also located in Cassville, Wis., to 100 percent biomass," he said. "Also, the conversion of Xcel Energy's Bayfront coal plant in Ashland, Wis., to 100 percent biomass." This way, Taglia added, there would be no question of whether biomass would be continually used at the facility.

A written order is expected to be issued by Dec. 15; Alliant will have 20 days to request that the PSCW reconsider its decision.