Coal Use in Wisconsin

As the largest source of electricity in the world, burning coal is also one of the largest sources of manmade greenhouse gases and other air pollutants. Even though we have no coal of our own in Wisconsin, we get the majority of our electricity from coal plants, some dating as far back as the 1940s.

Each year, these coal plants in Wisconsin emit thousands of tons of greenhouse gases that contribute to our warming climate, as well as polluting our air with other contaminants, including

  • Particulate matter: Can cause premature death in people with lung or heart diseases; causes a large number of respiratory and cardiovascular problems
  • Sulfur dioxide: Causes acid rain; can cause respiratory problems; contributes to fine particulate matter; can have an amplifying effect on the impacts of mercury pollution
  • Nitrogen oxides: Forms ozone, and can contribute to respiratory problems and the formation of particulate matter
  • Mercury: Gets into the water and environment, and interferes with brain development, in humans and in wildlife

Key Points

  • Despite some recent improvements, Wisconsin still gets the majority of its electricity from coal. In 2010, 62.5% of electric power was generated by coal-based power plants, down from 70.9% in 2000.[1]
  • Despite not having any coal of our own, we burn around 25 million tons of coal every year in Wisconsin.[1] To import all this coal, we send over $1 billion dollars out of state every year.[1]
  • Coal accounts for the vast majority of air pollution in our state. In 2010, coal power plants were responsible for 86% of sulfur dioxide and 77% of nitrogen dioxide emissions from the electric power industry.[1]
  • Pollution from Wisconsin coal plants is estimated to contribute to 268 deaths, 201 hospital admissions and 456 heart attacks each year.[2]
  • Nearly 90% of the water used each year in Wisconsin is used to cool power plants.[3]


Clean Wisconsin's Work

Clean Wisconsin has a long history of advocating for alternatives to coal power and working to stop or shut down coal plants. In July 2012 we secured a victory in Milwaukee; working with the Cleaner Valley Coalition, we helped pressure We Energies and state regulators to clean up the Valley Power Plant, which will now switch to natural gas. In November 2008, we successfully defeated a proposal by Alliant Energy to build a coal-fired power plant in Cassville, which was denied by the Public Service Commission. In addition, Clean Wisconsin intervenes in utility applications to install pollution control technology on aged coal plants and argue for the shutdown of those units, since pollution control retrofits only prolong the life of the units and allow continued carbon emissions for another 30 to 40 years.

By working to reduce our dependence on dirty coal, Clean Wisconsin is working to secure a cleaner, healthier, more energy-independent future for our state.

Related Topic Pages

Valley Power Plant

The Valley Power Plant was built in 1969, and is a 280-megawatt coal-fired electric power station located near downtown Milwaukee, Wisconsin.


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Please cite this resource as: Clean Wisconsin, Inc. “Coal Use in Wisconsin.” Clean Wisconsin Enviropedia. Retrieved from