Generation Plants

Bluff collapse at power plant sends dirt, coal ash into Lake Michigan

Posted on November 1, 2011. Filed under: Generation Plants |

From an article by Meg Jones and Don Behm in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:

Oak Creek – A large section of bluff collapsed Monday next to the We Energies Oak Creek Power Plant, sending dirt, coal ash and mud cascading into the shoreline next to Lake Michigan and dumping a pickup truck, dredging equipment, soil and other debris into the lake.

There were no injuries, and the incident did not affect power output from the plant.

When the section of bluff collapsed and slid from a terraced area at the top of a hill down to the lake, Oak Creek Acting Fire Chief Tom Rosandich said, it left behind a debris field that stretched 120 yards long and 50 to 80 yards wide at the bottom.

Aerial images show a trailer and storage units holding construction equipment tumbled like Tonka toy trucks and were swept along with the falling bluff in a river of dirt that ended in the water.

“This is definitely a freak accident,” U.S. Coast Guard Lt. j.g. Brian Dykenssaid.

As a company hired by We Energies began cleanup in Lake Michigan, the utility confirmed that coal ash was part of the debris.

“Based on our land use records it is probable that some of the material that washed into the lake is coal ash,” We Energies spokesman Barry McNulty said. “We believe that was something that was used to fill the ravine area in that site during the 1950s. That’s a practice that was discontinued several decades ago.”

The Environmental Protection Agency is in the process of developing stricter regulations of coal ash following a 2008 Tennessee coal ash pond washout that created a devastating environmental disaster.

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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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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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Well water near power plant contaminated: We Energies supplying bottled water to affected residents while seeking source

Posted on June 29, 2010. Filed under: Coal, Generation Plants |

From an article by Christine Won in The Journal Times (Racine):

CALEDONIA — Some residents near the Oak Creek power plant have not had access to drinking water since last August because their wells have been contaminated.

They have been advised by the state Department of Natural Resources to not drink or cook with the well water because of higher-than-standard levels of a dissolved metal called molybdenum.

Instead, they’ve been drinking and cooking with the water bottles supplied to them by We Energies “as a courtesy and precautionary measure.”

“It is possible that molybdenum is naturally occurring at these levels in your well water, or it could represent impacts from coal ash fills in the area,” reads a letter from Kristine Krause, vice president-environmental at Wisconsin Energy Corp., dated Aug. 24.

The state groundwater standard for molybdenum, set in 2006, is 40 micrograms per liter. The residents along County Line Road or Douglas Avenue are finding higher levels, even up to triple the standard in one case.

Frank Bink’s water sample read 113 micrograms per liter on Aug. 26, according to an Oct. 5 letter from We Energies. Because it was so high, they tested it again — it read 124 micrograms per liter on Sept. 25.

“Had I known … I wouldn’t have built out here,” says Bink, who’s 84, retired and has lived at his house on County Line Road near the plant for 51 years.

Out of the 27 residential wells We Energies tested since 2007, 14 of those showed higher concentrations of molybdenum than the state standard. Test results ranged from 3 micrograms per liter to 58, plus two farther away at 89 and 124 micrograms per liter, according to the company.

The company has taken a proactive approach to be a good neighbor, spokesman Barry McNulty said, by testing the water regularly, immediately alerting the state and going door-to-door to personally notify residents. That goes along with providing bottled water while trying to determine the extent of molybdenum in the groundwater, he said, because it is not clear whether the source is natural or manmade.

“We feel the right thing is to provide bottled water to those customers until we can conclude that in fact it is not We Energies in any way contributing to that,” McNulty said.

Preliminary data indicates no molybdenum is migrating from the ash fills toward the residential wells, he said, adding groundwater in the area has been shown to flow primarily to the east toward Lake Michigan.

A state hydrogeologist will study the results of the state’s two sampling rounds to determine how widespread the contamination is, how severe and what the source of the contamination may be, said Rhonda Volz, regional drinking water and groundwater supervisor for the DNR.

“It’s a tough position for people who have wells in the area to be in,” Volz said. “That’s why we are trying to help them.”

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Alliant says no nukes and no more coal plants … for now

Posted on May 21, 2010. Filed under: Coal, Generation Plants, Nuclear |

From an article by Judy Newman in the Wisconsin State Journal:

Alliant Energy is giving up on the idea of building more coal-fired power plants “for the time being,” Alliant chairman, president and chief executive Bill Harvey said Thursday.

In an interview after the Madison utility holding company’s annual shareholders meeting, Harvey said Alliant subsidiary Wisconsin Power & Light will not ask for a new coal-fueled power plant to replace one proposed for Cassville that state regulators rejected in late 2008.

“I think it’s politically … too risky to think about building coal plants until climate legislation gets in place,” Harvey said. “There’s got to be substantial technological improvements before the country returns to building coal plants. That’s certainly true for us,” he said.

Thanks to adequate power available to buy on the electric transmission grid, Harvey said it will likely be two or three years before Alliant proposes building another natural-gas-fired power plant. That could happen sooner, though, if the economy recovers quickly or if climate change rules force the company to abandon its older coal-fired power plants sooner than expected.

As for nuclear power, Harvey said Alliant is not big enough to consider spending up to $10 billion to build a nuclear plant but it might buy part of a new one, if one is built. “We have to consider that. We have to consider all possibilities,” he said.

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Renewable Energy Not Responsible for MGE Rate Increase

Posted on April 27, 2010. Filed under: Coal, Generation Plants |

April 27, 2010

Michael Vickerman
RENEW Wisconsin

Renewable Energy Not Responsible for MGE Rate Increase

Higher costs associated with fossil fuel generation are driving Madison Gas & Electric’s costs higher, according to testimony submitted by company witnesses. The utility filed an application last week with the Public Service Commission (PSC) to collect an additional $32.2 million through a 9% increase in electric rates starting January 2011.

The bulk of the rate increase can be attributed to expenses associated with burning coal to generate electricity. A 22% owner of the 1,020-megawatt (MW) Columbia Generating Station near Portage, Madison Gas & Electric (MGE) and the owner plant owners plan to retrofit the 35-year-old facility to reduce airborne emissions. The cost of Columbia’s environmental retrofit is expected to total $640 million, of which MGE’s share is about $140 million.

MGE also owns an 8% share of the state’s newest coal-fired station, the 1,230-MW Elm Road Generating Station located in Oak Creek. A portion of the proposed rate hike would cover lease payments and other expenses at that plant.

MGE’s application does not attribute any portion of its proposed rate hike to renewable energy sources. However, MGE plans to increase the premium associated with its voluntary Green Power Tomorrow program from 1.25 cents per kilowatt-hour to 2 cents. RENEW estimates that the premium hike will collect more than $1 million in 2011 from the approximately 10,000 customers participating in the program.

According to the utility’s web site, 10% of MGE’s electric customers purchase some or all of their electricity from renewable resources. Moreover, Green Power Tomorrow has the second highest participation rate of all investor-owned utilities in the country according to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory.

Not surprisingly, MGE anticipates subscribership in Green Power Tomorrow to decrease if the PSC approves the higher premium. Currently, the program accounts for about 5% of total electric sales. Program subscribers include the City of Madison, State of Wisconsin, Dane County Regional Airport, Madison West High School, Goodman Community Center and Home Savings Bank.

According to MGE, sinking fossil fuel prices have widened the difference between wholesale power costs and the cost of supplying customers with renewable energy. However, it is worth remembering that the cost of supplying power from MGE’s renewable energy assets, such as its Rosiere installation in Kewaunee County and Top of Iowa project, did not increase last year and will not increase in the foreseeable future.

“Even though the cost of MGE’s windpower supplies is not going up, Green Power Tomorrow customers will take a double hit if the PSC approves this rate increase and request for higher premiums,” said RENEW Wisconsin executive Director Michael Vickerman. “It’s a ‘heads-I-win-tails-you-lose’ proposition that will wind up rewarding customers who drop out of the renewable energy program because coal is cheaper.”

“It would be short-sighted to penalize renewable energy purchasers just because fossil fuel prices are in a temporary slump,” Vickerman said. “But if MGE is allowed to institute this penalty at the same time it imposes the cost of cleaning up an older coal-fired generator on all of its customers, including its Green Power Tomorrow subscribers, it would have a profoundly negative impact on the renewable energy marketplace going forward.”

“This is the wrong time to be throwing up barriers to renewable energy development. We at RENEW will fight proposals that reward fossil fuel use and penalize renewable energy,” Vickerman added.

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.
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Colorado increases renewables and distributed generation requirements

Posted on March 24, 2010. Filed under: Energy Policy, Generation Plants |

While the Wisconsin legislature considers a renewable portfolio requirement of 25% by 2025, Colorado will soon have a requirement of 30% by 2020, according to an article by Kate Balbraith on a New York Times blog:

In a bid to propel his state to the forefront of the new energy economy, Colorado’s governor is expected to sign one of the most aggressive renewable energy requirements in the country on Monday afternoon.

The new law requires 30 percent of large utilities’ electricity to come from renewables by 2020. The previous requirement was 20 percent by 2020.

The higher target “will continue to position Colorado as a national pacesetter for creating jobs, strengthening our economy and protecting our environment,” wrote the governor, Bill Ritter, in an op-ed article in a Colorado newspaper on Sunday.

About half of all states in the country have renewable energy requirements, known as a “renewable portfolio standard.”

California’s rule — the most aggressive — requires big utilities to get 33 percent of their electricity from renewables by 2020, and 20 percent by 2010. However, the state is likely to fall short of the 2010 goal — showing that targets are easy to establish but more difficult to meet.

Mark Stutz, a spokesman for Xcel Energy, which serves about 70 percent of Colorado’s population, said that the utility supported Colorado’s increased target. The new law also requires that “distributed generation” — small, dispersed electricity sources — equate to 3 percent of each utility’s electricity sales.

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Utilities axe plans for Big Stone II coal plant

Posted on November 3, 2009. Filed under: Coal, Generation Plants |

From an article by Leslie Brooks Suzukamo in the St. Paul Pioneer Press:

Developers of the controversial Big Stone II power plant in Milbank, S.D., said Monday they will not build the $1.6 billion coal-fired project, ending a four-year battle between utilities and environmentalists over a significant portion of Minnesota’s energy future.

About half of the plant’s 500 megawatts to 600 megawatts of power – enough to supply about 580,000 homes – would have come to Minnesota. But now the regional utilities that backed the plant must go back to the drawing board to find other sources of energy for the decades ahead.

The plant had made it through a series of environmental and other regulatory hurdles, only to stumble because of the recession and uncertainty about federal climate-change regulations that scared off banks and other potential partners.

The decision to kill the Big Stone II proposal also could delay transmission projects in Minnesota and the Upper Midwest, some of which already had been approved by regulators. . . .

The [utilities] now are looking at some combination of building natural gas plants, ramping up energy efficiency programs and more renewable energy like wind, said Bill Radio, spokesman for Missouri River Energy Services. The Sioux Falls, S.D., utility had been counting on Big Stone II for about 150 megawatts of power, of which half would go to two dozen towns in western Minnesota.

The developers maintained Monday that Big Stone II remained the least costly way to meet growing energy demand, but renewable energy advocates said the decision shows it was actually coal power that is more costly.

Since Big Stone II was proposed, 108 out of 150 proposed coal plants in the United States have been withdrawn, blocked or abandoned by utilities, according to the Sierra Club.

“They were trying to build a coal-fired power plant in the teeth of a carbon-restrained world, and that was too costly and too risky,” said Michael Noble, executive director of Fresh Energy, an environmental group in St. Paul. “What this (decision) should tell you more than anything is that the era of coal-fired power plants is over.”

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