State Regulators Approve $171 Million Natural Gas Plant near Wausau

State regulators voted 2 to 1 to approve plans from two of the state’s largest utilities to build a $171 million natural gas plant near Wausau.

We Energies and Wisconsin Public Service say the 128-megawatt plant is a key part of a $3.5 billion plan to retire 1,600 megawatts of fossil fuels and replace that with power from wind, solar and battery storage. Milwaukee-based WEC Energy Group, which owns the two utilities, has pledged to cut carbon emissions 80 percent by 2030 and go carbon-neutral by 2050. The Utilities hope to begin construction of the plant this year and place it in service in 2023.

As part of the transition, they plan to keep a “modest amount” of natural gas in their power mix that includes the new plant, which will have seven reciprocating internal combustion engine (RICE) units in Rothschild and Kronenwetter.

Public Service Commission Chair Rebecca Valcq agreed the gas-fired units are important to ensure that reliable power can be dispatched quickly when renewable resources aren’t available. “The company will be able to call on that capacity to fill in the gaps for intermittent resources when it’s needed,” Valcq said.

As Wisconsin and the federal government aim to go carbon-neutral by mid-century, Commissioner Ellen Nowak argued regulators need to “be the adults” to ensure reliable and affordable power throughout the clean energy transition.

“The record here shows that we have to build these units. They’re necessary,” Nowak said. “If you like renewables, then … you need these units. They are a necessary part of the transition.”

Nowak highlighted studies by the North American Electric Reliability Corporation and Midcontinent Independent System Operator that underscore the variability of renewable energy and need for more flexible resources like natural gas.