Utilities Say Wisconsin Coal Plants will Operate Longer Due to Energy Supply Constraints

Several Wisconsin coal plants will remain online years longer than planned.  Madison-based Alliant Energy and Milwaukee-based We Energies said those delays and economic challenges will postpone operation of clean energy projects.

Utilities also expressed concerns about maintaining reliable power as the regional grid operator has said 15 states, including Wisconsin, could see an energy shortage of 2,600 megawatts next year.

Alliant previously announced plans to shut down its 400-megawatt Edgewater coal plant in Sheboygan by the end of this year and its 1,100-megawatt coal plant in Columbia County by 2025. Now, the utility said Edgewater will continue to operate until mid-2025 while Columbia is now slated to retire by mid-2026.

“That adjusted timing allows our company some flexibility beyond 2022 to manage that regional capacity and (those) supply chain challenges as we move forward with adding that solar and other resources to diversifying that energy mix,” said David de Leon, president of Alliant’s utility in Wisconsin.

We Energies announced Thursday that plans to shut down its coal-fired units at the South Oak Creek coal plant in Milwaukee County will be delayed by a year. The utility now plans to retire two units by May 2024 and its last two units by late 2025.

“The decision to postpone the retirement dates for these units is based on two critical factors: tight energy supply conditions in the Midwest power market and supply chain issues that will likely delay the commercial operation of renewable energy projects that are currently moving through the regulatory approval process,” Scott Lauber, president of We Energies, said in a statement.

If We Energies retired plants on schedule, the utility argued it would be more costly to make up for that shortfall in power generation by buying power on the market.

“Not only might that not be there because there could be capacity issues, but even if it was there, it’s going to be very, very expensive,” said Brendan Conway, We Energies spokesperson. “Based on current prices, literally tens of millions of dollars more a year to buy (power) on the market as opposed to running the plant on those peak days.”