Plan demonstrates lack of environmental and economic foresight

MADISON — Alliant Energy earlier this week announced that the company plans to close the Blackhawk and Rock River natural gas-fired power plants in Beloit as a result of a recent reduction in demand for electricity within its service territory.

“We’re all for reducing our reliance on fossil fuels, but why shut down relatively clean natural gas plants when pollution from coal plants is far worse?” said Peter Taglia, staff scientist at Clean Wisconsin, the state’s largest environmental advocacy organization. “Wisconsin should shut down inefficient, dirty coal plants before natural gas plants.”

Even though natural gas plants are a far cleaner means of producing electricity than coal, Wisconsin relies on coal to produce 70 percent of its electricity. When compared to coal, natural gas produces half as much global warming pollution while also emitting almost no mercury that pollutes our water, and significantly less sulfur and nitrogen oxides – pollutants that diminish air quality and create smog.

Forecasting an increase in electrical demand for the state, Alliant Energy proposed to build another 300 megawatt coal plant on the shores of the Mississippi River last year. As part of the plan, it offered to retire the 77-megawatt Edgewater 3 coal unit in Sheboygan. When the Public Service Commission unanimously denied the utility’s proposal to build a coal plant, Alliant withdrew its offer to shut down the old and out-dated Edgewater 3.

“If Alliant is producing more electricity than its customers are using, why wouldn’t they shut down their dirtiest plants?” said Taglia. “Shutting down cleaner plants first demonstrates a lack of environmental and economic foresight – Alliant should start by taking the biggest polluters off line.”

In 2006, Sheboygan’s Edgewater 3 unit pumped over 700,000 tons of global warming pollution into the air, as well as other pollutants, including mercury, sulfur and nitrogen oxides. Built in 1951, Edgewater 3 is one of the oldest and most inefficient coal-fired units in the state, and unlike Beloit’s natural gas plants, Edgewater 3 will face much greater costs in the near future for the much greater amounts of carbon dioxide, mercury and other pollutants it emits.

“It’s time for Alliant to come up with a real carbon reduction plan,” said Taglia. “In a carbon-constrained world, our first priority must be to shut down the old, inefficient coal units.”