We have to move “so fast” to get to 100% renewables

Posted on January 5, 2012. Filed under: Coal, Energy Policy, Renewable energy - generally |

Leslie Glustrom is the featured speaker at RENEW’s Energy Policy Summit, January 13, Madison. Read the report that she mentions about 11 minutes into the interview.

Get details and register for the Summit at the Summit Web page.

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Coal’s liabilities to be a focus of RENEW’s Energy Policy Summit, Jan. 13, Madison

Posted on January 4, 2012. Filed under: Coal, Renewable energy - generally |

For immediate release:
January 4, 2012

More information
RENEW Wisconsin
Michael Vickerman

Coal’s Liabilities to be a Focus of RENEW’s Energy Policy Summit

Long-considered an inexpensive and reliable fuel source, coal is rapidly becoming the Achilles’ heel of the national electric energy picture, according to Leslie Glustrom, Research Director for Clean Energy Action in Boulder, Colorado.

Glustrom will be the featured speaker at the RENEW Energy Policy Summit on January 13, 2012, in Madison.

Clean Energy Action is spearheading a campaign to shut down Colorado’s coal-fired power plants and replace them with locally generated renewable electricity.

In a recent report, Glustrom wrote, “It appears that rather than having a ‘200 year supply of coal,’ the United States has a much shorter planning horizon for moving beyond coal-fired power plants.  Depending on the resolution of geologic, economic, legal and transportation constraints facing future coal mine expansion, the planning horizon for moving beyond coal could be as short as 20-30 years.” (1)

“The expectation of less plentiful coal supplies and continued increases in coal prices reinforces the value of expanding our use of energy resources that we have in this state,” said Michael Vickerman, Executive Director of RENEW Wisconsin, a statewide, nonprofit renewable energy advocacy organization.

“People from businesses and households will meet at the RENEW Energy Summit, January 13, to forge an action plan for a renewable energy future that moves us away fuels with serious and well-documented liabilities,” said Vickerman.

The delivered price of coal for Wisconsin generation plants has increased by 17% over the last twelve months of available data, according to Vickerman. (2)

“This upward trajectory will continue this year when current supply contracts expired on December 31.  The newer contracts that take effect January 1 of this year are certain to be more costly,” said Vickerman.

A recent Wall Street Journal article reported that coal consumption fell 2 percent this year and is likely to decline by an even larger 4 percent in 2012.  Many observers predict that between 10 and 20 percent of coal-fired power in the United States will be shut down by 2016. (3)

More information on RENEW’s Energy Policy Summit can be found on the RENEW Wisconsin website:

– END – 

RENEW Wisconsin is an independent, nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization that acts as a catalyst to advance a sustainable energy future through public policy and private sector initiatives.  More information on RENEW’s Web site at   

References and links

1.  Coal: Cheap and Abundant…Or Is It?  Why Americans Should Stop Assuming That The U.S. Has a 200-Year Supply of Coal by Leslie Glustrom

2. Energy Information Agency, Electric Power Monthly, Dec. 16, 2011, Table  4.10.A

3.  The Coal Age Nears Its End,  Wall Street Journal, Dec. 23, 2011

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Coal Critic Coming to Madison to Speak on Effective Renewable Energy Advocacy, January 2012

Posted on December 7, 2011. Filed under: Coal, Economic development, Energy Policy, Jobs, Renewable energy - generally | Tags: , , , |

For immediate release
December 7, 2011

More information
Michael Vickerman

Leslie Glustrom, research director of Colorado-based Clean Energy Action, and an unwavering critic of utility reliance on coal for electricity generation, will be the featured speaker at RENEW Wisconsin’s Energy Policy Summit.

The Summit will be held on Friday, January 13, 2012, at the University of Wisconsin-Extension’s Pyle Center located on the UW-Madison campus. Summit attendees will spend the day discussing and selecting renewable energy strategies that make sense in the current political environment in Wisconsin. More information on the Summit can be found on the RENEW Wisconsin website at

As research director, Glustrom authored in 2009 an extensively referenced report on U.S. coal supplies titled, “Coal—Cheap and Abundant—Or Is It? Why Americans Should Stop Assuming that the US has a 200-Year Supply of Coal,” available for free at

Since 2009, Glustrom has traveled to numerous states helping them to understand the likely constraints on their coal supplies.
Glustrom’s on-going research illuminates a future in which coal prices will likely continue to escalate, driven by a combination of less accessible coal supplies, increasing demand from Asian countries, and rising diesel fuel costs for hauling coal to distant markets like Wisconsin.

Clean Energy Action is spearheading a campaign to shut down Colorado’s coal-fired power plants and replace them with locally generated renewable electricity.

“Leslie’s experiences with Clean Energy Action can help Wisconsin renewable energy advocates formulate effective strategies for 2012 and beyond,” said Michael Vickerman, executive director of RENEW Wisconsin, a statewide sustainable energy advocacy organization headquartered in Madison.

“Even though Colorado is a coal-producing state, it has adopted some of the most aggressive policies in the country for advancing renewable energy,” said Vickerman. “Colorado’s commitment to clean energy is driving its economy at a time when its coal output is diminishing. For example, Vestas, the world’s largest manufacturer of wind turbines with four plants employing 1,700 people in Colorado, supplied 90 turbines this year to Wisconsin’s largest wind project, the Glacier Hills Wind Park in Columbia County.”

“Leslie will inspire us to reverse the retreat from renewables and retake the initiative going forward,” Vickerman said.

In Boulder, Glustrom was part of the team that led the successful 2010 and 2011 ballot initiatives allowing Boulder to move ahead with plans to municipalize and break away from the long term commitment to coal plants made by their incumbent utility, Xcel Energy.

 — END —

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Utilities warn of higher rates because of pollution rules

Posted on August 24, 2011. Filed under: Carbon, Clean Air, Climate change, Coal, Utility rates |

From an article by Tom Content published in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel on August 19:

Two state utilities said this week new federal pollution rules will lead to higher electricity costs come January.

Wisconsin Public Service Corp. of Green Bay said its residential customers can expect an increase of more than $4 a month next year, including about $2 linked to the new rules designed to limit air pollution from coal-fired power plants.

The utility said it would see higher costs of about $32.6 million in 2012 from the Cross-State Air Pollution Rule that was finalized recently by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. That will result in rates going up by 6.8% instead of 3.4%, the utility said.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency last month finalized stronger regulations for Wisconsin and 26 other states aimed at curbing air pollution from long-distance sources.

Environmental groups praised the new rule because it would reduce acid rain and air pollution as well as help curb health effects from dirty air linked to coal plants. The EPA projected the rule will save up to 34,000 lives a year and prevent more than 400,000 asthma attacks as well as 19,000 admissions to hospitals. . .

The new rule has been in development for several years but the first phase of compliance hits utilities in 2012. WPS said it won’t have time to install pollution controls by next year at its plants, but will be able to comply by purchasing credits from other utilities that have cut emissions.

The utility also said it plans to operate its coal plants less next year than it otherwise would have, and will buy more power from the Midwest wholesale power market as a result, a move that it said is also a factor in higher costs for customers. . . .

On Thursday [August 18], Wisconsin Power & Light Co. [Alliant] of Madison said it would face an additional $9 million in costs linked to the air pollution rule. With the change, the utility is now seeking an increase in 2012 of $20 million, or 2%, utility finance manager Martin Seitz said in a filing with state regulators.

Todd Stuart, executive director of the Wisconsin Industrial Energy Group, criticized the increases, and he noted that large energy users like paper mills will see higher than average increases, compared with homeowners and small businesses. Paper mills served by WPS could see a 9% hike, he said. . . .

“Industry always cries wolf whenever EPA tries to reduce air pollution,” said Katie Nekola, lawyer with the conservation group Clean Wisconsin. “The fact is, the new rule will affect old, inefficient, unnecessary coal plants that should have been shut down long ago. The continued operation of those old units is costing ratepayers money, but you don’t hear industry complaining about that.”

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Rising Diesel Prices Fuel Higher Electric Rates

Posted on April 15, 2011. Filed under: Coal, Economic development, Generation Plants, Jobs, Peak Oil & the End of Cheap Fossil Fuel, Renewable energy - generally |

For immediate release
April 15, 2011

More information
RENEW Wisconsin
Michael Vickerman

We Energies Customers Will Pay the Higher Cost of Hauling Coal

We Energies’ electricity customers can look forward to coughing up an additional $25 million in 2011 due to the Public Service Commission’s approval yesterday [April14] of a rate increase to cover the escalating cost of transporting coal to Wisconsin power plants.

Milwaukee-based We Energies, Wisconsin’s largest electric utility, imports coal from such distant locations as Wyoming and Pennsylvania to generate electricity. Transportation now accounts for two-thirds of the delivered cost of coal to Wisconsin.

Diesel fuel costs have jumped to approximately $4.00 a gallon this year, propelled by political unrest in the Middle East, declining petroleum output from Mexico, a weakening dollar, and other factors. We Energies’ request predated the ongoing civil war in Libya.

“While we cannot control any of those price drivers, we can more effectively cushion their effects by diversifying our energy generation mix with locally produced wind, solar, small hydro, and biogas electricity,” said Michael Vickerman, executive director of RENEW Wisconsin, a statewide organization advocating for public policies and private initiatives that advance renewable energy.

“The coal mines aren’t getting any closer to Wisconsin. Therefore we have to be serious about reducing our dependence on fossil fuels that are tied to the global oil supply picture. Now is not the time to skimp on investments in conservation and renewable energy that will help stabilize the utility bills of businesses and residents,” Vickerman said.

“Do we have the will to pursue energy policies that take us off of the fossil fuel price escalator? Doing nothing will bake these rate increases into our future without any corresponding boost to Wisconsin’s job market and sustainable energy economy.”

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Colorado regulators vote for Xcel to shut 6 coal-fired plants

Posted on December 8, 2010. Filed under: Clean Air, Coal, Generation Plants |

From an article by Mark Jaffe in the Denver Post:

The Colorado Public Utilities Commission voted Monday to shut six aging Front Range coal-fired power units and allow Xcel Energy to replace them with a new $530 million gas-fired plant.

Pollution controls, with a $340 million price tag, also were approved for the coal-burning Pawnee plant near Brush and the Hayden plant.

The commission still must decide what to do with the largest coal-burning plant in the Denver area — the Cherokee 4 unit.

“Cherokee 4 is the largest source of air pollution in the Denver area, and it needs to be shut,” said John Nielson, energy-program director for the environmental-policy group Western Resource Advocates.

The closures, which will occur between 2011 and 2017, are part of Xcel’s proposal to meet the state Clean Air- Clean Jobs Act, which seeks to cut nitrogen-oxide pollution by 70 to 80 percent.

Xcel would receive accelerated cost recovery for the investments in a comprehensive plan to cut pollution under the law.

The state is out of compliance with federal clean-air health standards and has to submit a plan next year to the Environmental Protection Agency showing steps to cut pollution.

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Wisconsin Cannot Afford to Ignore Rising Coal Prices

Posted on December 1, 2010. Filed under: Coal, Energy Policy, Renewable energy - generally | Tags: , |

For immediate release:  December 1, 2010

More information
RENEW Wisconsin
Michael Vickerman

 Wisconsin Cannot Afford to Ignore Rising Coal Prices

 Long-considered an inexpensive and reliable fuel source, coal has become subject to market and regulatory pressures that threaten to make it an expensive and risky way to generate electricity, according to national news reports and pertinent utility filings with the Wisconsin Public Service Commission (PSC).

“The expectation of continued increases in coal prices reinforces the value of relying on Wisconsin’s own energy resources.  If there’s an effort to find savings for utility customers, the logical move would be to shutter antiquated coal plants before they become more of a liability,” said Michael Vickerman, Executive Director of RENEW Wisconsin, a statewide, nonprofit renewable energy advocacy organization.

A key driver behind coal’s rising cost is China, which has moved from an exporter to an importer of coal.  The New York Times (NYT) reported last week that Chinese coal imports will hit all-time highs for November and December of this year.  Some of this coal is coming from Wyoming’s Powder River Basin, the coal field that also supplies many Wisconsin power plants.1

In the New York Times story, an executive from Peabody Energy, the world’s largest private coal company, predicted that his company will send larger and larger quantities of coal to China in the coming years.

Further adding to the upward price pressure on coal is the rising cost of diesel fuel.  The PSC has estimated that half of the delivered cost of coal in Wisconsin is attributable to rail shipment.  The cost of transporting coal a thousand miles is highly sensitive to the price of diesel fuel, which sells for 38 cents more per gallon than it did a year ago, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.2  Tom Whipple, editor of the Peak Oil Review, expects diesel fuel supplies to tighten in 2011 as a consequence of flat production volumes and increasing demand from Asia. This phenomenon could affect Wisconsin electric utility rates as early as January 2011, according to Vickerman.

We Energies’ coal costs have escalated by $57 million, of which transportation costs account for almost $33 million, according to the utility’s most recent rate filing with the PSC.  On top of that, We Energies expects to pay an additional $8 million in oil surcharge costs.4 (more…)

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Rising electricity cost has jolted state

Posted on November 16, 2010. Filed under: Coal, Generation Plants, Renewable energy - generally | Tags: , , |

From an article by Tom Content in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:

The price of electricity has shot up faster in Wisconsin than in all but five other states since 2000, which could pose a threat to the state’s economic competitiveness, a new analysis by the Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance says.

Wisconsin businesses and homeowners are paying more than most surrounding states, as the state continues to pay for power plant upgrades that followed near-brownouts in the late 1990s.

That, coupled with rising natural gas and coal prices, has pushed rates up. The state’s electricity prices, which ranked 11th-lowest in the nation in 1990, now rank 20th-highest, the report found.

“We need to recognize that energy prices really do have an effect on the competitiveness of the state,” said Kyle Christianson, policy research analyst at the nonpartisan Taxpayers Alliance. “We’re talking about trying to attract employers and adding new jobs, and particularly in a manufacturing-intensive economy like Wisconsin, energy prices are a major cost of doing business.”

Utilities regulators defend Wisconsin’s power plant building boom as important to keeping the state’s economy competitive over the long run.

“A manufacturing state simply cannot survive without a reliable electric infrastructure,” said Bob Norcross, administrator at the state Public Service Commission. “Wisconsin responded to its reliability crisis by making necessary investments that were in large part supported by the state’s business community, and they were sound. The rebuilding period that accompanied those infrastructure investments is now reaching an end, but we need to pay for them – and that’s why we have rate pressure. . . .”

Charlie Higley, executive director of the Wisconsin Citizens’ Utility Board, is concerned that rate increases will continue for residential customers.

“Our households are paying a high price for electricity, and it’s hurting their ability to make ends meet,” Higley said.

Wisconsin now has a power glut that prompted the state Public Service Commission to launch an investigation into whether some of the state’s older power plants should be mothballed or shut down.

Shutting down coal would help the state’s customers from having to cover the rising coal prices, Higley said.

“Since we get most of our power from coal that means we’re very susceptible to paying higher rates because of higher coal prices,” Higley said. “It underlies our calls for moving toward cleaner energy solutions like renewable energy and energy efficiency, which don’t have fuel costs.”

But Klappa said the record power use this summer – in the midst of an economy that’s slow to emerge from the Great Recession – underscores that Wisconsin doesn’t have a power glut.

“We never had a 95-degree day this summer and we set two energy consumption records for customers, July for residential customers and August for small commercial and industrial customers,” he said. “There’s not a lot of excess.”

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Another coal plant converts to wood

Posted on October 26, 2010. Filed under: Biomass, Coal, Generation Plants, Wood | Tags: , , |

From an article by Tom Content in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:

Efforts to add more renewable energy in Wisconsin from burning wood waste moved ahead Monday with the completion of one biomass power plant and the start of construction on another.

A 40-megawatt biomass power plant has opened in southwestern Wisconsin.

The power plant, the E.J. Stoneman Station in Cassville, is producing electricity by burning wood waste including residue from forestry and tree trimming work as well as railroad ties, demolition waste and sawdust.

Ann Arbor, Mich.-based DTE Energy Service Inc. owns and operates the plant and sells the power to Dairyland Power Cooperative of La Crosse.

“DTE Energy Services is proud to be able to give the Stoneman plant new life as a generator of renewable energy,” David Ruud, president of DTE Energy Services, said in a statement. “We also are pleased that the plant will provide employment for 32 members of the Cassville community and support the local economy through our relationships with fuel suppliers and other local businesses.”

Dairyland built the former coal-fired power plant in 1951 and operated it for more than 40 years.

“We are pleased to see this major renewable energy resource come online for our cooperative membership,” said Dale Pohlman, Dairyland vice president of strategic planning. “Our ‘green’ partnership with DTE Energy Services will supply the energy needs to power 28,000 homes across our system by utilizing a natural resource – wood waste – as fuel.”

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Governor Doyle breaks ground on coal plant conversion to biomass

Posted on October 25, 2010. Filed under: Biomass, Coal, Economic development | Tags: , |

From a news release issued by Governor Doyle:

MADISON – Governor Jim Doyle today broke ground on the Charter Street Biomass Heating Plant project. The $251 million project is one of the largest biomass projects in the nation and will create construction and clean energy jobs. The project follows Governor Doyle’s 2008 announcement that Wisconsin would stop burning coal at state-owned heating plants on Madison’s Isthmus.

“In 2008, I announced plans to stop burning coal at state-owned heating plants on Madison’s Isthmus,” Governor Doyle said. “Today, we are breaking ground on the Charter Street biomass plant and taking a major step forward to make this goal a reality. The Charter Street plant will turn a waste stream into clean energy, it will keep energy dollars in our communities, and it will help clean our air and water. This project will create great jobs in Wisconsin and will develop a new biomass market from our great fields and farms.”

The Governor’s 2009-2011 capital budget included $251 million for the Charter Street project and $25 million to convert the Capitol Heat and Power Plant to natural gas. The Charter Street plant will support local biomass providers and eliminate over 108,000 tons of coal burned every year. In March, the state stopped burning coal at the Capitol Heat and Power Plant – eliminating 4,500 tons of coal burned by the state each year. When the Charter Street project is completed in 2013, the Doyle Administration will have reduced State of Wisconsin coal use by 65 percent.

The Charter Street project is a joint effort between AMEC and Boldt Construction. The plant’s coal boilers will first be replaced by natural gas and biomass fuel. The plant will run completely on biomass by late 2013, with the capacity to burn wood chips, corn stalks and switch grass pellets and power 300 local buildings.

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