Fog enshrouds the Oak Creek Power Plant in Wisconsin in this 2010 photo. (Photo by jonnyfixedgear via Creative Commons)
A new report warns that Wisconsin’s economic competitiveness could be at risk if the state doesn’t diversify its electricity sources.
The Badger State is already burdened by the second highest electricity prices in the Midwest, with only Michigan customers paying more on average.
Those rates are likely to climb faster than inflation and prices in surrounding states in the next decade due to Wisconsin’s dependance on coal-burning power plants, according to Gary Radloff, director of Midwest policy analysis at the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Wisconsin Energy Institute.
His recent paper, “How to Keep Wisconsin and the U.S. Competitive in a Changing Energy World,” says better planning and more investment are needed to shield the state’s economy from fossil fuels’ risk and volatility.
A wind farm near Fond du Lac, Wisconsin. (Photo by digidave via Creative Commons)
More than two years after Wisconsin completed a bipartisan process to establish statewide standards for siting wind turbines, development remains sluggish amid continuing political pushback.
In 2012, a year that saw a nationwide surge in wind farm installations as developers rushed to beat expiring tax credits, Wisconsin added only 18 megawatts of capacity.
By comparison, Michigan and Ohio, with much lower wind potential, had already installed 138 MW and 308 MW in just the first three quarters.
Compared to other Midwestern states, Wisconsin ranks at the bottom in both wind projects under construction and in queue, according to the American Wind Energy Association.
Challenges to wind energy have come from nearly every level of government.
Shortly after taking office in 2011, Gov. Scott Walker proposed a plan supported by the state’s Realtors Association that would upend the new standards. That effort, and other bills to weaken or repeal the new rules, have failed to gain broader support in the state legislature.
New on the state’s legislative docket this spring are a bill that would allow local governments to adopt more stringent restrictions on wind farms than current state law allows, and another that would clear the way for legal action against wind facilities.
A frac sand processing facility near New Auburn, Wisconsin. (Photo by Jim Tittle)
The Oscar-nominated documentary “Gasland” was for many an eye-opening conversation starter on the environmental hazards of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking.
A new independent documentary called “The Price of Sand” aims to play a similar role in the region’s frac sand mining debate.
St. Paul filmmaker Jim Tittle started his project, like “Gasland” director Josh Fox, after a fossil fuel company began speculating near his family’s land. About two years ago, an oil company bought land down the road from his mother’s home in Hay Creek Township, south of Red Wing, Minnesota.
As word spread about the company’s plans to build a 150-acre open pit silica “frac sand” mine, nearby residents started asking questions about how it would affect them. Tittle, a freelance videographer, decided to seek answers across the river in Wisconsin, where more relaxed regulations had already attracted a silica mining boom.
Michael Vickerman, program and policy director of RENEW Wisconsin.
By Michael Vickerman
Only in Wisconsin will you find lawmakers who treat renewable energy as though it were radioactive.
A legislator from Brown County, Rep. Andre Jacque, has introduced a bill (AB 34) to incorporate nuclear energy within Wisconsin’s 14-year-old renewable electricity standard.
The bill defines the terms under which utilities could apply the output from in-state nuclear power plants toward their existing 10 percent requirement, which would be renamed the Advanced and Renewable Portfolio Standard (ARPS). Right now, Wisconsin has three operating nuclear reactors at two locations five miles apart along Lake Michigan.
Two of the three nuclear power stations–Point Beach units 1 and 2–are located within Rep. Jacque’s district. The adjoining district contains the other nuclear unit , the 560-MW Kewaunee Nuclear Power Plant owned by Dominion Resources, a Virginia-based utility holding company. Late in 2012, Dominion announced that it would shut down and decommission Kewaunee this spring, while cutting the plant’s 650-person workforce in half.
Dominion’s Kewaunee Power Station in Wisconsin will close this spring. (Photo by Lenka Reznicek via Creative Commons)
©2012 E&E Publishing, LLC
Republished with permission
By Hannah Northey
The president and CEO of Dominion said Wednesday that nuclear power will play a key role in meeting President Obama’s goal of lowering carbon emissions — despite the president’s silence on the energy source during his State of the Union speech.
“When President Obama … indicates his priority is decreasing greenhouse gases, we have to pay attention to this,” Thomas Farrell said at a Platts nuclear energy conference in Washington, D.C. “And when he establishes this national agenda without mentioning the role of nuclear power … we have to pay attention to that, too.”
Obama dedicated a significant portion of his address to energy and climate change but drew the ire of some industry groups and lawmakers for not mentioning coal, nuclear power or hot-topic issues like the Keystone XL oil pipeline project (E&E Daily, Feb. 13).
Any environmental movement that is “anti-carbon” will also need to be “pro-nuclear,” Farrell said, noting that activists like James Hansen of NASA are embracing nuclear energy.
Xcel Energy does not have to share ownership of a planned Twin Cities-to-La Crosse transmission line with a Wisconsin competitor, federal regulators ruled earlier this week.
American Transmission Company (ATC) had argued it was entitled to own part of the $490 million project in a complaint to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC).
On Monday, FERC denied ATC’s complaint and said MISO, the Midwest’s electricity grid operator, was correct to distribute ownership of the transmission project as it did.
Five acousticians from four consulting firms were hired to gather noise data from the Shirley wind farm in Wisconsin. (Photo via Wisconsin PSC)
Is a recent Wisconsin study the smoking gun that proves wind turbine noise causes health problems?
It depends on whom you ask, and more importantly, whether that person is qualified to answer the question.
One month ago, five sound experts set up recording equipment at three homes near a Wisconsin wind farm that had been abandoned by their occupants, who blame the turbines for a variety of health issues.
Over the course of a few days, microphones picked up inaudible, low-frequency turbine noise in the home nearest to the turbines. The subsequent report prompted state Rep. Andre Jacque, R-De Pere, to call for an emergency moratorium on wind permits in the state, saying the analysis proves wind farms produce “dangerous” infrasound levels.
“These results compel them to act immediately to keep this nightmare from spreading,” Jacque told the Green Bay Press-Gazette.
However, whether turbine noise is to blame for nausea, headaches and other symptoms was well beyond the limited scope of the three-day field study, which acknowledges the issue as “serious” and “possibly affecting the future of the industry,” but calls for further research into the matter.
Michael Vickerman, program and policy director of RENEW Wisconsin.
Starting next January, the price of purchasing renewable energy voluntarily through monthly utility bills will spike to all-time highs, thanks to recent decisions rendered by the Public Service Commission of Wisconsin (PSCW) on two popular “green pricing” programs.
The thousands of Madison Gas & Electric (MGE) customers participating in the utility’s Green Power Tomorrow program will see their premiums jump from 2.5 cents/kWh to 4 cents/kWh. That’s an increase of 60 percent. To translate this into dollars and cents, an average MGE customer consuming 500 kWh of electricity per month and subscribing at the 100 percent level will pay $90 more in 2013 for the same amount of renewable kWh sold this year.
Residential customers of Milwaukee-based We Energies (WE) will see an even larger percentage increase next year. In that utility’s rate case, the PSCW jacked up the premium paid by Energy for Tomorrow subscribers by nearly 73 percent, from 1.39 cents to 2.4 cents/kWh. Energy for Tomorrow has more than 20,000 subscribers.
Back in 1999, the year both programs were launched, MGE and WE customers paid an extra 3.33 cents and 2.04 cents/kWh, respectively, for the renewable energy they sponsored. Come January 1st, MGE and WE will likely share the dubious distinction of being the only utilities in the country offering renewable energy at a higher rate than they did in the 1990’s. So much for progress.
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.