Retirement Set for Wisconsin’s Second-Largest Coal Plant

The Columbia Energy Center, a two-unit 1,100-MW coal-fired station located in Columbia County, Wisconsin, south of Portage, will be permanently retired by the end of 2024.   

Alliant Energy, which co-owns the facility with Wisconsin Public Service Corp. (a subsidiary of WEC Energy Group) and Madison Gas and Electric Co., made the announcement on Feb. 2. It said Unit 1 would be shuttered by the end of 2023, with Unit 2 closed the following year.

“The closure of Columbia is truly a historic moment as we stop burning coal in our Wisconsin Operations and fully turn our attention to generating cleaner energy using renewable resources, such as solar, battery storage and high efficiency gas,” David de Leon, president of Alliant Energy’s Wisconsin energy company, said in a statement.

Alliant Energy has set goals of cutting CO2 emissions in half by 2030, and eliminating all coal from its generation fleet by 2040. The company said retiring the Columbia Energy Center will help it achieve that vision. Furthermore, de Leon said the closure would save customers more than $250 million in expenses that would have been necessary to keep the plant operational in the long term.

“By acting now to move away from coal to clean energy, Alliant Energy is putting words into action at a critical time,” said Elizabeth Katt Reinders, deputy director of Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign. “Alliant Energy’s Blueprint shows how comprehensive resource planning can deliver hundreds of millions of dollars of avoided costs to customers. This process, which included robust stakeholder engagement and advanced modeling tools, led to the decision to retire Columbia by the end of 2024 and replace that power with clean energy. This demonstrates their commitment to keeping costs down for customers, contributing to the growing renewable energy job economy, and doing it in a way that is supportive of their employees and the communities they serve.”

Alliant Energy has been steadily adding renewable energy and gas-fired generation to its fleet, while eliminating coal assets. On May 22, 2020, the company announced it would retire the coal-fired Edgewater Generating Station in Sheboygan, Wisconsin, by the end of next year. The news came just a week after the company reported placing its new West Riverside Energy Center—a 730-MW natural gas-fired combined cycle plant in Beloit—into commercial operation. Later that month, the company announced plans to acquire and advance 675 MW of solar capacity in mostly rural areas of Grant, Jefferson, Richland, Rock, Sheboygan, and Wood counties in Wisconsin. The projects were said to be the first phase of a plan to install 1,000 MW of solar generation in the state by 2023.

“Solar energy is a smart investment for our Wisconsin customers,” de Leon said at the time. “These projects will provide steady revenue to Wisconsin communities, create new construction, operation and maintenance jobs, and provide our customers with reliable and sustainable energy for years to come.”

Alliant Energy, which also has an Iowa energy generation and distribution subsidiary, has been adding a lot of wind energy to its fleet as well. On Oct. 1, 2020, the company announced it had completed the 130-MW Richland Wind Farm in Sac County, in west-central Iowa. That was the last of five wind projects it had developed across seven counties in the state under the company’s plan to add 1,000 MW of wind capacity in Iowa. The company boasted that the additions had made it the third-largest utility owner-operator of regulated wind in the U.S.

“With wind, because there are no associated fuel costs, our investment in this renewable, natural resource provides long-term savings for our customers,” Terry Kouba, president of Alliant Energy’s Iowa energy company, said in a statement announcing the 1,000-MW milestone. “By continuing to advance cost-effective and clean energy, our customers, the communities we serve and the environment will benefit for decades to come,” Kouba said.

Aaron Larson is POWER’s executive editor (@AaronL_Power, @POWERmagazine).

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