Alliant Closing Coal Unit, Brings Gas Plant Online

Wisconsin-based Alliant Energy on May 22 said it would retire the coal-fired Edgewater Generating Station in Sheboygan by year-end 2022, an announcement coming just one week after the utility said it had placed the new 730-MW West Riverside Energy Center, a natural gas-fired combined cycle plant in Beloit, into commercial operation.

Alliant, which also has announced it will build a solar power facility next to the West Riverside plant, cited a desire to produce more clean energy, and the resulting cost savings for its customers, for the decision to shut down the nearly 90-year-old Edgewater facility.

A report from the Sierra Club said Unit 5 at Edgewater, the lone remaining operating unit at the facility, lost $8.3 million in net energy market revenues in 2016. The report said the unit’s $26.2/MWh production costs were higher than the median market prices every month of that year.

“For decades, our Edgewater Generating Station has been providing customers and communities safe and reliable energy,” said David de Leon, president of Alliant Energy’s Wisconsin energy company, in a news release. “As we transition from coal toward a cleaner energy mix, we are caring for our employees, creating new jobs and bringing new economic development opportunities to the communities we serve.”

The company said closing the station will help Alliant avoid about $200 million in costs associated with facility maintenance and equipment upgrades to meet regulatory standards.

The Edgewater plant began operation in 1931, and over the years had as many as five units in operation, with new boilers added in 1941, 1951, 1969, and 1985. The plant just more than a decade ago had a generation capacity of 893 MW.

Only the 380-MW Unit 5—a POWER Top Plant honoree in 2017 after installing a state-of-the-art air quality control system—has operated recently. Unit 4 was retired in 2018, Unit 3 was shut down in 2015, and Units 1 and 2 were taken offline in 2008.

Alliant in late 2015 had shuttered the 225-MW coal-fired Nelson Dewey plant in Cassville (see accompanying video) as part of an agreement with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for violations of the Clean Air Act. The company has said its transition to cleaner power includes investment in up to 1 GW of solar power as a part of its Clean Energy Blueprint in Wisconsin.

Alliant Energy contracted with Edge Consulting Engineers to capture drone video footage of the Dec. 14, 2017, implosion of the Nelson Dewey Generating Station boiler house building and 355-foot stack. The plant in Cassville, Wisconsin, along the Mississippi River, operated from 1959 to 2015. Source: YouTube / Alliant Energy

About 80 Jobs Lost

The Edgewater closure is expected to result in the loss of about 80 jobs. De Leon said about 40% of the current workforce is eligible for retirement, and said the company will offer career assistance to workers impacted by the shutdown.

“By announcing now, our employees have the time they need to explore potential career options and enhance their skillset,” said Diane Cooke, vice president of Human Resources at Alliant Energy. “Because each employee is unique and at a different place in their career and life, we are meeting with them individually. This allows us to tailor assistance to their specific needs and interests. Caring for the people who so ably power our communities is one of the most important parts of our transition to cleaner energy sources.”

A project to install a new air quality control system (AQCS) for Unit 5 at the Edgewater Generating Station was honored with a POWER Top Plant award in 2017. A key element of the project was to minimize the footprint of the AQCS, and contractors had to be innovative to design a compact unit. The team addressed the issue by locating the hydrator and electrical control building beneath the scrubber and baghouse. Courtesy: Stanley Consultants

Alliant Energy said it has hired Vandewalle & Associates (V&A), a Wisconsin-based urban planning and economic redevelopment firm, to redevelop the Sheboygan site. The company has developed the Sheboygan Comprehensive Plan for the city.

Robert Crain, director of customer communications and economic development at Alliant, said, “This is going to be a long-term process. It’s going to be a planning process. It’s going to involve a lot of community input.”

“We have a long history and deep roots in the Sheboygan area and we’re going to continue supporting the community, our customers and employees,” said de Leon. “Our shift toward cleaner energy generation is driven by our value to do the right thing. We are focusing on lowering costs, creating environmental benefits, meeting customer demand and being a good partner with the communities we serve.”

$660 Million Gas Plant

The $660 million West Riverside Energy Center was built with an eye toward “complementing the company’s growing number of solar and wind facilities,” Alliant said in a news release, noting “because it leverages combined-cycle technology, its power output can adjust up and down quickly to fit with the intermittent nature of renewable resources.”

Bob Newell, project manager for Alliant, had said West Riverside would be one of the “most efficient plants in at least Wisconsin, if not the entire Midwest,” when the project was announced.

Construction of West Riverside began in 2017. The project team was led by AECOM, which served as the engineering, procurement, and construction contractor. HDR contributed as the owner’s engineer. Facility co-owners include Adams-Columbia Electric Cooperative, Central Wisconsin Electric Cooperative, and Rock Energy Cooperative.

“We are proud to put our West Riverside Energy Center into service to provide reliable and affordable energy to our customers and communities. Community support, strong partnerships and hard work by countless employees, contractors and suppliers made this a successful project,” said de Leon in a statement. “We appreciate the collaboration we have with the neighbors, the town and city of Beloit, Rock County, the state of Wisconsin and the many other organizations, businesses and individuals who continue to support this facility.”

“Through a great team effort, the project came in under budget and online in time for increased summer demand,” said Newell. “Customers will benefit from the reduced costs as a result of the budget savings and very low natural gas prices.”

The project’s next phase includes construction of a 6-MW solar power facility adjacent to the gas-fired plant. Alliant said it expects to break ground soon for the West Riverside solar garden, and said the facility should be complete by year-end.  

Darrell Proctor is associate editor for POWER (@DarrellProctor1, @POWERmagazine).

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