September 11, 2008

Coalition Backs Proposed Power Plant But Opponents Skeptical of Alliant Energy Plan


Madison -- A coalition of union, farm and environmental groups threw their support behind Alliant Energy Corp.'s proposed coal- fired power plant during a rally Wednesday.

Building the power plant on the Mississippi River in Cassville would generate hundreds of construction jobs and up to 40 full-time jobs at a time when the state's unemployment rate is climbing, union leaders said.

"Haven't we seen enough unemployment? Support biofuels, new jobs and a better economy," said Phil Neuenfeldt of the Wisconsin AFL- CIO. Nearly 200 people attended the rally, and the speakers were flanked by large tractor-trailers loaded with bales of switchgrass that could be burned in the new power plant.

"Wisconsin's farmers are working to produce the next generation of biofuels, grown right here in Wisconsin, Alliant's proposal keeps our money right here in our communities," said Matt Krumenauer, director of government relations at the Wisconsin Federation of Cooperatives.

Alliant has proposed that up to 20% of the coal plant's power be generated from wood and non-food crops such as switchgrass and cornstalks.

The rally came as a response to opposition to the plant voiced by environmental and customer groups, as well as criticism of the proposal from the staff of the state Public Service Commission.

The groups are raising questions about the escalating cost of the plant as well as concerns about Wisconsin adding another coal plant to its power supply mix at a time of increasing concern about global warming.

The rally came one day after Alliant disclosed to securities regulators that the cost of the project has escalated again. The plant is now projected to cost $1.2 billion to $1.3 billion.

Alliant has announced a plan to offset the additional emissions of carbon dioxide from the project through a variety of initiatives including greater use of energy efficiency and renewable energy and shutting down an aging coal-fired boiler in Sheboygan.

Katie Nekola, energy program director at Clean Wisconsin, said the group is skeptical that the utility's plans would offset the new power plant's emissions.

"But that's not what we need to do," she said. "We need to be reducing them pretty dramatically, and the way to do that is by not building a new coal plant that's going to be emitting 3 million tons of greenhouse gases per year."

Supporters of the plant who attended the rally included members of the Wisconsin Wildlife Federation, which promotes the use of switchgrass because it is a desirable bird habitat.

Alliant executives say their project is being closely watched by other utilities around the country, as one alternative to reduce the nation's emissions linked to coal-fired power plants. If every power plant in the country would generate 10% of its power from burning wood waste, cornstalks and switchgrass, the emissions saved would be significant, said Kim Zuhlke, Alliant vice president of new energy resources.

Proponents and opponents are expected to testify at public hearings on the proposal later this month in Cassville and Portage.

Copyright 2008, Journal Sentinel Inc. All rights reserved. (Note: This notice does not apply to those news items already copyrighted and received through wire services or other media.)

(c) 2008 Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All rights Reserved.