By Michael Vickerman
Shock waves reverberated across the Upper Midwest when Dominion Resources announced in late October that it would permanently shut down its Kewaunee nuclear generating station in early 2013. Operational since 1974, the Kewaunee station, located along Lake Michigan 30 miles east of Green Bay, currently generates about 5 percent of the electricity that originates in Wisconsin.
Virginia-based Dominion, which bought the 560-megawatt Kewaunee plant in 2005 from two Wisconsin utilities, attributed its decision to its inability to secure long-term power purchase agreements to keep the plant going. Without securing purchasing commitments from utilities, Dominion would have to sell Kewaunee’s output into the regional wholesale market at prices well below the plant’s cost of production.
While the pricing environment for all bulk power generators is nothing short of brutal these days, Kewaunee carries the additional burden of being an independently owned power plant, since the entities most likely to buy electricity from that generator—utilities–have power plants of their own that compete for the same set of customers. And a growing number of these utility-owned generators burn natural gas, which is currently the least expensive generation source in most areas of the country.
The Otto E. Eckert Station in Lansing, Michigan is among the power plants the Union of Concerned Scientists says is “ripe for retirement.” (Photo by David Shane via Creative Commons)
The Midwest is full of coal plants that can’t compete economically with cleaner energy sources and could readily be retired over the next several years, according to a report released yesterday by the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS).
The report spotlighted 353 coal-fired generating units nationwide that are among the walking dead—plants which would be more expensive to upgrade with modern pollution control equipment than to simply close. Those plants produce 59 GW of electricity.
Add in another batch of plants that produce 41 GW and are already slated for closure, and a full 30 percent of the nation’s coal-fired generation capacity could be retired by 2020, the group concluded.
Four Midwestern states—Ohio, Indiana, Michigan and Wisconsin—were among the top 10 states with the most coal-fired generation capacity that could be phased out.
A wind farm near Fond du Lac, Wisconsin. Renewable energy advocates are expecting another challenge to the state’s wind siting rules. (Photo by Digidave via Creative Commons)
Will changing political winds in Wisconsin mean another new direction for wind energy policy in the state?
Wisconsin Republicans reclaimed control of the state’s senate last week, five months after recall elections tipped the balance to Democrats. Republicans will now hold power by a wider margin in 2013 than they held in 2011.
Wind energy advocates are worried that might mean another attempt to repeal the state’s wind farm siting rules, which limit restrictions that local governments can place on proposed wind developments.
And one Republican state senator has already announced plans to seek a repeal of the state’s renewable electricity standard, though a renewable advocacy group doubts the bill will gain enough support to pass.
Hopes for bipartisanship
Overall, RENEW Wisconsin program and policy director Michael Vickerman expects less hostility and more acceptance of the fact that renewable energy plays a growing role in the state’s economy.
Kewaunee Power Station (Photo via Nuclear Regulatory Commission)
©2012 E&E Publishing, LLC
Republished with permission
By Gabriel Nelson and Hannah Northey
Richmond, Virginia-based Dominion Resources Inc. said Monday it will shut down and decommission the Kewaunee Power Station near Green Bay, which would make it the first U.S. nuclear reactor to be permanently retired since 1998.
The company said the decision was purely based on economics, which may signal trouble for other nuclear power plants at a time when cheap natural gas and the slowly recovering economy are holding down electricity prices in many parts of the country.
A dairy farm near Coon Valley, Wisconsin. (Photo by dusted via Creative Commons)
As a new report touts Wisconsin’s potential as a bioenergy leader, the state’s agricultural industry so far is slow to take advantage of a revamped incentive program that prioritizes the technology over wind and solar power.
As of July, Wisconsin’s Public Service Commission’s utility-funded Focus on Energy program began limiting renewable incentives to $10 million annually through 2014, and allocating 75 percent of incentives to biogas, biomass and geothermal projects. The remaining 25 percent is up for grabs by other renewable energy projects.
The decision reversed the previous focus on wind and solar, which absorbed 86 percent of Focus’ incentives in 2011.
Despite the changes in funding requirements, $8 million has already been spoken for or was paid out earlier this year under the former program, leaving about $2 million for projects under the new guidelines, said Catalina Lamadrid, director of marketing and communications for Focus on Energy. Next year will be the first year in which the full $10 million incentives will be distributed under the new regime.
MISO – the Midwest Independent Transmission System Operator – voted Thursday to approve a significantly scaled-down version of a transmission line expansion in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula for which American Transmission Company (ATC) had requested expedited “out-of-cycle” approval.
Though the plan approved by MISO involves half the cost and less than half the line mileage of ATC’s proposal, critics say it is still unfair that Wisconsin ratepayers will pick up about 90 percent of the cost for infrastructure primarily serving Michigan — and specifically new hard rock mining operations in the UP.
The transmission plan still needs to be approved by the Wisconsin Public Service Commission and face regulatory scrutiny in Michigan. The Wisconsin commission will consider the plan when ATC files a request, likely sometime next year.
The Superior Sands mine in Bloomer, Wisconsin, in 2011. Silica mines in Wisconsin and Minnesota are rapidly expanding to supply the booming fracking industry. (Photo © Mary Kenosian, used with permission)
A new industry that could bring hundreds of millions worth of investments is on Minnesota’s doorstep, waiting to be invited in.
The frac sand industry is already booming across the border in Wisconsin, where mining operations are expanding to meet the demand for fine silica used in hydraulic fracturing. The scale of that development, often in scenic areas, has also drawn considerable public opposition.
City, county and township officials, too, have unanswered questions about the impact of frac sand mining on the environment, public health, and roads and bridges. Several southeastern Minnesota cities and counties (as well as in Wisconsin) have established moratoriums to give officials some time to try to decide how best to regulate the new industry.
A state senator and a group of citizen petitioners are now calling on Minnesota officials to play a bigger role in helping answer these questions.
“These are going to be big operations. They’re going to be around for a long time. We need to make sure that we have all the bases covered when we move forward with it,” said state Sen. John Howe, a Republican from Red Wing.
Click the image above to view an interactive map showing how all 50 states fared in the report.
A solar coalition’s annual policy report card gave out poor marks this week to two Upper Midwest states for their rules on plugging small-scale renewables into the electric grid.
The sixth edition of Freeing the Grid, published Monday by the Vote Solar Initiative, gives Minnesota a flunking grade for net metering and ‘D’ for interconnection.
Wisconsin received ‘D’s in both categories, while most Midwest states saw ‘B’s or ‘C’s.
More than 40 states have net-metering laws, which require utilities to credit customers for unused electricity they generate from solar panels, wind turbines or other sources.
Interconnection refers to all of the technical and contractual procedures for connecting a solar array or other distributed generation system to the grid.
Courtesy of CapX2020
After years of planning, debate, and regulatory procedures, one of the largest transmission projects in the country is on track to be completed by 2015.
CapX2020 reached a major milestone in receiving an approval from Wisconsin officials in May, while igniting an ownership battle over a related line in the Badger State.
The Wisconsin Public Service Commission in May gave approval to the final CapX2020 leg, which crosses the Mississippi River at Alma, Wisconsin, before heading south toward LaCrosse. Prior to that, the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission approved the state’s final portion, from Hampton to Alma, in April.
Although landowners and individuals opposed to CapX have raised objections, the Wisconsin PSC denied all 14 petitions by a 3-0 vote last week. Minnesota’s PUC will soon hear two petitions against the project.
Wisconsin state Sen. Frank Lasee
A Wisconsin state senator wants to reopen debate on the state’s years-long effort to establish uniform wind siting rules, and representatives from the renewable energy industry say they’ve had enough.
The Wisconsin Energy Business Association, which represents more than 70 companies in the wind, solar, and bioenergy fields, says state Sen. Frank Lasee’s “ongoing hostility toward Wisconsin’s wind industry is preventing real economic growth,” according to a news release.
Sen. Lasee, a Republican from De Pere, this week brought four people before the state’s Public Service Commission to discuss health problems they attribute to the Shirley Wind Farm in Brown County.
“It doesn’t affect all people, but it affects a significant number of people and we shouldn’t do that to people in their own homes,” Sen. Lasee said, according to a report from WKOW-TV.