Construction progresses on We Energies' Wis. biomass plant

By Anna Austin | December 29, 2011

We Energies is making progress on its 50 MW biomass power plant in central Wisconsin.

Located in the town of Rothschild, the project faced numerous hurdles since it was announced in the fall of 2009, including opposition from anti-biomass activists and two orders from the Public Service Commission of Wisconsin to lower the cost of the project.

In June, the final major plant hold up was put to rest through a revised financial agreement with project partner Domtar Corp. The PSCW had required the companies to reach an agreement in order to lower the annual capital recovery costs to ratepayers by $2 million.

A lawsuit challenging the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources’ ruling on the project, filed by local opposition group Save Our Air Resources and Massachusetts-based Biomass Accountability Project, was dismissed by a judge in late September.

Now, it is seemingly smooth sailing for the plant, which has been under construction since the end of June. “In general, [development] is going very well,” said Brian Manthey, We Energies spokesman. “We’re very much on schedule, and we’ve been able to make quite a bit of progress during this first part of construction.”

Crews poured concrete for the 1,300-square-foot foundation of the steam turbine building last week, Manthey said. The foundation for the building that will house the boiler was poured in the fall, and crews have erected the steel for two of its four tiers.

Cooling towers below grade foundations and basin walls are now in place, he added, and the storm water retention pond was completed in September.

The companies expect the plant to be complete by late summer 2013. It will be fueled with recycled mill waste from Domtar’s papermaking process, along with waste wood from area forest operations and sawmills. Steam produced at the plant will be used to power the papermaking process at Domtar’s co-located mill, while the power produced will be plugged in to the grid to help Wisconsin meet its renewable portfolio standard (RPS) of 10 percent by 2015.