July 31, 2008

State Report Not for or Against New Plant

By Judy Newman, The Wisconsin State Journal

Jul. 31--Wisconsin Power & Light 's proposal to build a coal- and biomass-fired power plant at Cassville would not be the least expensive option or the least polluting way to meet the Madison utility 's electricity needs, and it could disrupt an eagle-nesting area, mussels habitat and a culturally significant site, a state report shows.

But the final environmental impact statement on the proposal, made public Tuesday, does not recommend for or against the plans for a 300-megawatt power plant.

In fact, there are few changes from a draft report issued in May, even though WPL announced in June that if state regulators OK the proposal, it will use wood and grasses for 20 percent of the plant 's fuel, up from 10 percent, will close an aging coal-fired plant near Sheboygan and boost its wind power production.

Those amendments came in too late to be analyzed for the environmental report by staff of the state Public Service Commission, Department of Natural Resources and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

"We 're still evaluating some of that, " PSC spokesman Timothy Le Monds said.

Sam Weis, media specialist with Clean Wisconsin, said WPL 's recent offer will be weighed separately from the power plant project.

"They 're trying to create the illusion that this coal plant is good for the environment, when it 's really not, " Weis said.

The voluminous staff report suggests that electricity use in WPL 's territory in south-central Wisconsin will not grow as rapidly as the utility company projects. It examines about half a dozen alternative scenarios and says building a natural gas-fueled plant or joining with other utilities to build a larger power plant might be less expensive.

The report says WPL 's baseload plants are, on average, 40 years old and the utility spent more than $400 million to buy power from other utilities in 2006. But adding a 300-megawatt plant would give WPL a reserve margin of more than 20 percent at a time when the PSC is considering trimming the reserve it requires utilities to have to 14 percent.

One surprise has been the large number of written comments -- about 30 -- the PSC received in response to the draft report, Le Monds said.

"The time for coal is over! Contrary to their claims, it is not green, it is black death, " wrote William Thibodeau, of Cassville.

"Please help us preserve the fresh air and beautiful landscape in this area of the state, " urged Ila Leean White, of Cassville, who offered her land for a wind turbine.

But George Meyer, executive director of the Wisconsin Wildlife Federation and former DNR secretary, praised the use of biomass, saying it would improve the health of the forest, wildlife habitat and water quality.

Dan Bartel, of Sun Prairie, also supported the project. "It is totally unrealistic to think that we can stop using the most plentiful fuel resource in the U.S. It really turns out that the sun does not shine 24 hours a day and the wind doesn 't always blow, " he wrote.

Public hearings are tentatively scheduled Sept. 22, at 4 p.m. and 6:30 p.m., at the Cassville elementary school gymnasium and Sept. 23, at 4 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. at the Portage Best Western Resort Hotel. A PSC decision is expected in December.


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