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Coal clings to its power

By: Rick Benedict//April 3, 2009//

Coal clings to its power

By: Rick Benedict//April 3, 2009//

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Paul Snyder
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A new federal energy study says it is unlikely many new coal-fired power plants will be built in the next 20 years.

The end of coal? Not quite, say utility companies.

“I think it’s premature to go down that road,” said Rob Crain, spokesman for Alliant Energy Corp. “We’re still waiting to see what kind of environmental regulation will come down, and we’re certainly cautious in our approach when considering new plants, but I don’t think it’s realistic to count out coal at this point.”

But Paul Holtberg, director of the Demand and Integration Division of the U.S. Energy Information Administration, the federal agency that released the study, said the report does not question whether coal will be used. It questions whether new coal plants will be built, he said.

According to the Annual Energy Outlook 2009, which the EIA issued Tuesday, policies expected to be enacted by Congress or other federal agencies to reduce or limit greenhouse gas emissions will slow construction of new coal-fired plants.

“Last year we were projecting 100,000 kilowatts of new coal-fired electricity by 2030,” said Michael Mellish, coal analyst for the EIA. “This year, it’s down to 47,000 kilowatts by 2030.”

Mellish said in addition to legislation and federal regulation on carbon and other greenhouse gas emissions, plant construction across the country is slowing in step with demand for new baseload capacity.

And Wisconsin proves no exception. Following heavy expansion in the last eight years, We Energies has no major plans to produce more generation anytime soon, said spokesman Brian Manthey.

Although the Public Service Commission of Wisconsin last year rejected a planned $1.26 billion expansion of the Nelson Dewey Generating Facility in Cassville, which would have been predominantly coal-fired, Crain said Alliant plans to wait until the economy recovers to pursue a replacement project for that lost baseload generation.

In the meantime, both We Energies and Alliant Energy are pursuing wind farm developments in an effort to meet the state’s renewable portfolio standards, which call for utilities to derive 10 percent of their energy portfolio from renewable sources by 2015.

However, that does not mean there won’t be work for builders when it comes to modernizing existing coal facilities, Manthey said.

Although carbon-capture technology is still being developed, We Energies has put mechanisms in place to capture sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide emissions from its plants in Pleasant Prairie and Oak Creek, Manthey said. The work could cost up to$400 million in Pleasant Prairie and about $750 million in Oak Creek.

“We’re still waiting on the technological advances in carbon capture,” he said. “And who knows what kind of world we’ll be in, in 10 years’ time? Will the nuclear plant moratorium be repealed? Will there be tighter emissions regulations to deal with?

“We do want to know how we continue to use the plants we’ve got.”


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