Alliant seeks approval for coal plant

Alliant seeks approval for coal plant

Formalizing a decision it announced in April, Alliant Energy Corp. has asked state regulators for permission to build a coal-fired power plant in Cassville, expanding the existing Nelson Dewey facility.

The proposed 300-megawatt plant would provide enough power for about 150,000 homes. If approved, Alliant hopes to begin construction of the $777 million plant by June 2008 so it could be operational by June 2012. The company again identified the Columbia Energy Center near Portage as an alternate site.

But the plant faces opposition from the Citizens’ Utility Board and environmental group Clean Wisconsin, which want the state to focus on conservation and renewable energy sources such as wind power.

“Global warming is a big problem and this plant would contribute to that,” CUB executive director Charlie Higley said today.

The groups said that, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Alliant’s existing coal burners at the Nelson Dewey site emit more than 1.7 million tons of global warming pollutants each year. The additional plant would increase that to a projected 3.8 million tons.

In addition, Higley said, carbon emissions are likely to face additional regulations in the next several years that would drive up costs to consumers of utilities that rely on coal.

Higley concedes that getting many Americans to conserve energy is difficult. The easiest way is making energy more expensive but that carries with it “major social issues” due to the impact on low-income and fixed-income people, Higley said.

If new plants are needed, natural gas is better than coal, producing less pollution, but it has many problems, Higley said, including supply and price volatility issues.

CUB opposes allowing more nuclear plants to be built because of the waste issue and cost. In addition, Higley said it’s a myth that nuclear power has no impact on global warming – “lots” of emissions tied to global warming are created when producing nuclear fuel.

Coal gasification, a new cleaner technology for burning coal, “shows lots of promise,” Higley said, “But even then you’re stuck with coal mining.”

Alliant spokesman Scott Smith said the company looked at gasification but considers it a “great technology for the future.”

“It has significant capital costs and hasn’t been proven to be reliable yet,” he said, adding that if a gasification plant does not work customers would have to pay twice – for the plant and for replacement purchased power.

Alliant is trying to mitigate some of coal’s problems by using “circulating fluidized bed” technology that uses limestone to reduce pollution in burning coal and allows the plant to burn biomass such as wood chips and corn stover. Although biomass would only constitute about 10 percent of the fuel burned at the plant, using it would mitigate some of the potential carbon taxes, Smith said.

One reason Cassville was selected as the preferred site is that it has the potential to increase the import capability into Wisconsin by about 25 percent, or 625 megawatts, Alliant said.

While some people tend to oppose construction of power plants in their immediate area, the 1,100 residents of Cassville are clamoring for the new plant, village president Louis Okey said.

“We’re going to have a parade – a welcoming parade,” Okey said.

Cassville’s two plants are key employers, and the new plant could mean 35 more jobs in addition to construction jobs, Okey said.

Alliant also asked state regulators to approve a financing package that would guarantee Alliant a profit of nearly 13 percent on its investment. CUB and other customers are expected to ask state regulators to reduce that amount.

The Public Service Commission takes six to 12 months to review applications for major power plants.


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