State may shut down five coal-fired power plants
Feb 20, 2010 - Dee J. Hall - The Wisconsin State Journal
The state will install more pollution controls, eliminate coal use or possibly shut down five coal-fired heating plants, the Wisconsin Department of Administration announced Friday.
The plants are at Mendota Mental Health Institute in Madison and UW campuses in Eau Claire, La Crosse, Oshkosh and River Falls.
The announcement came the same day the state Department of Natural Resources notified the DOA that five plants were not in compliance and five others needed reviews to determine whether they comply with clean-air regulations.
Administration Secretary Michael Morgan said Gov. Jim Doyle "made it very clear that it is our job here at the Department of Administration to fix this problem ... and do it quickly."
After being sued by the Sierra Club in 2007, the state signed a consent decree that resulted in the elimination of coal at two state-owned plants: UW-Madison's Charter Street Heating Plant and the Capitol Heating Plant in Downtown Madison. Those changes are expected to cost $275 million.
At the time, the state also agreed to study how to lower emissions at the coal-fired plant at Waupun -- which serves Waupun, Dodge and Burke correctional institutions -- and other state-owned buildings in the area.
Friday, Morgan announced that plant also will stop using coal. He said eliminating coal at those three plants will cut the state's use of the fuel, which emits greenhouse gases including carbon dioxide, by 65 percent.
"This is progress, and we really look forward to working with DOA to bring these facilities up to snuff and to move the state beyond coal," said Jennifer Feyerherm, director of Sierra Club's Wisconsin Clean Energy Campaign.
A private consultant hired by the Department of Administration concluded in 2008 that all of the state's plants except Charter Street, Capitol and Waupun were in compliance with federal clean-air regulations. The DNR disagreed.
"The DNR is the state's environmental regulatory agency, we defer to them, we accept their findings, and we will fix it," Morgan said.
Five plants to be reviewed
Another five plants will be evaluated to determine whether they, too, must lower emissions to comply with the federal Clean Air Act. They are at UW campuses in Platteville, Stevens Point, Menomonie and Superior, and the Winnebago Mental Health Institute in Oshkosh.
When it was implemented in 1970, the federal Clean Air Act grandfathered in existing power plants. The grandfathered plants were required to use more pollution controls to meet the new standards if they underwent major modifications that resulted in significant additional emissions.
The Sierra Club alleged that millions of dollars worth of upgrades made at the facilities at Eau Claire, La Crosse, Stevens Point and UW-Stout in Menomonie were significant and increased the potential for the plants to emit more pollution, including carbon dioxide, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide and particulates. The comments are in response to the pending renewal of operating permits at those four plants.
Said Feyerherm: "The regulatory agency (DNR) has reached a conclusion, and now we'll work with the agency to bring the facilities into compliance."
The Sierra Club has been seeking records related to the DNR's evaluation of the consultant's report since October. On Monday, the environmental group sued the DNR in Dane County Circuit Court, alleging the agency was violating the state's open-records law by failing to turn over the documents.
Friday's announcement comes just days before the Legislature plans to attempt an override of a veto by Doyle that has galvanized the environmental community. Doyle vetoed a bill that would have returned control of the secretary of the DNR back to the Natural Resources Board, a measure that Doyle said would reduce the secretary's accountability but that supporters argued would help insulate the DNR secretary from political pressure. An override vote is scheduled for Tuesday in the Assembly.
Former DNR Secretary Scott Hassett has privately blamed his 2007 ouster by Doyle, a fellow Democrat, on the DNR's efforts to bring an enforcement action against the state for violations at the Charter Street plant, two former DNR officials told the State Journal in October.