Alliant Energy on Friday announced it would retire the last unit of its Edgewater coal plant in Wisconsin, a unit Sierra Club had previously found was costing Alliant's Wisconsin customers millions of dollars annually.
The 380 MW unit is scheduled to go offline by the end of 2022, according to the company, following the retirements of two other units in 2015 and 2018. Alliant is planning to replace the capacity "primarily with solar and natural gas-fired generation," utility spokesperson Scott Reigstad told Utility Dive in an email.
Edgewater was a case study in a report Sierra Club released this fall on uneconomic coal plant scheduling across the Midcontinent ISO region. The unit lost $8.3 million in net energy market revenues in 2016, according to the report, after its $26.2/MWh production costs remained above median market prices every month of that year.
Coal-fired power formerly dominated the Wisconsin energy mix, but for the first time in 2019 the fuel made up less than half of the state's electricity consumption at 42%, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.
The state's transition away from coal and toward natural gas and renewables is one that is happening across the country as utilities realize retiring uneconomic coal early can save customers money.
"Just looking at 2019, [the Edgewater plant] was losing millions of dollars running uneconomically," Elizabeth Katt Reinders, deputy director of the North Central region for Sierra Club's Beyond Coal campaign told Utility Dive. "It is clear that [Alliant] made this decision on an economic basis."
The Edgewater unit leaves behind a book life of $500 million that will be largely recovered through the rate base, the Wisconsin State Journal reports. But the utility says customers will still save money through its transition to cheaper natural gas, solar and wind.
"Our shift toward cleaner energy generation is driven by our value to do the right thing. We are focusing on lowering costs, creating environmental benefits, meeting customer demand and being a good partner with the communities we serve," David de Leon, President of Alliant Energy's Wisconsin energy company said in a statement. The utility did not previously have a retirement date for the plant.
"The decision to retire the Edgewater Generation Station came about through a long-term planning process by our company and through the development of our Wisconsin Clean Energy Blueprint roadmap that we put together in 2019," said Reigstad. "Our decision on the retirement is based upon what is best for our customers and communities."
"Making economically rational decisions and retiring these coal plants earlier than book life, in the case of Edgewater probably decades earlier than book life, is going to deliver savings to customers, and it's the right thing to do," said Katt Reinders.
The closure is also anticipated to result in about 80 layoffs, which is why the utility says it announced the closure two years in advance.
"By announcing now, our employees have the time they need to explore potential career options and enhance their skillset," Diane Cooke, Vice President of Human Resources at Alliant Energy, said in a statement. "Because each employee is unique and at a different place in their career and life, we are meeting with them individually."
Sierra Club applauded the utility's decision to announce the retirement early, as well as providing career assistance to workers laid off because of the plant's closure.
"Giving the advance notice and committing to career assistance for their workers, is a model that I really want to lift up," said Katt Reinders. She said that example should be followed by other utilities in the state as they consider retiring more coal.
Sierra Club's Beyond Coal campaign is targeting three Wisconsin coal plants in particular — the Oak Creek, Elm Road, and Columbia plants. Oak Creek and Elm Road are owned by We Energies and Columbia is co-owned by Alliant Energy.
The facilities are three of Wisconsin's five coal-fired plants that are still operating without a retirement date. Sierra Club wants to see all coal units in the U.S. retired by 2030, but is focused in particular on those three plants because they are some of the most expensive and largest greenhouse gas emitters in the state, said Katt Reinders.
"It's clear that [the Columbia] plant needs to retire sooner than what … their current plan is. We're seeing that that plant is also losing money and costing customers unnecessarily," she said. Committing to a date "matters for the workers and their ability to plan, prepare and be trained for a career transition."
This post has been updated with additional information from Alliant.