Calpine: proposed Fond du Lac power plant gets support at Northeastern Wisconsin economic development forum

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WRIGHTSTOWN – Construction of Calpine Corporation’s proposed $350 million power plant in Fond du Lac would boost Northeastern Wisconsin’s economy by creating jobs and increasing electric reliability, several speakers told legislators here at a Monday forum on economic development.

More than 500 workers are currently building a similar project, Calpine’s 600-megawatt Fox Energy Center in Kaukauna, according to Gary Ruhl, business representative for the Northeast Wisconsin Building and Construction Trades Council. Electricity from the Fox plant will be sold to Wisconsin Public Service Corporation under long-term contracts. Ruhl said Calpine’s proposed 523-megawatt Fond du Lac Energy Center should be in the mix of energy sources used by another utility, We Energies.

Jonathon Nyson of Calpine said, “It appears that We Energies’ controversial power plant proposal in Oak Creek may be delayed due to legal and regulatory issues. As the only fully-approved plant in the state – and one that also happens to be ideally located to serve We Energies’ service area – our Fond du Lac project represents an extremely important interim solution that could help keep the lights on until the issues surrounding the new coal plants in Oak Creek get resolved.”

Fond du Lac County Director of Administration Ellen Sorensen said she does not oppose building the coal plants We Energies is seeking to build in Oak Creek, but said the Fond du Lac project can be built sooner and cheaper to meet Northeastern Wisconsin’s energy needs.

We Energies has said it must begin building the coal plants this spring in order to meet its plan to begin operating them in 2009 and 2010. However, a court has nullified its Wisconsin Public Service Commission (PSC) permit to build the plants. In addition, other state and federal environmental permits have not yet been issued for the We Energies project and could face additional court challenges.

Calpine’s fully permitted Fond du Lac proposal, however, could be built to provide electricity in 2007. Building the Fond du Lac Energy Center for 2007, with coal plants built in 2011 or later, would save We Energies’ ratepayers money, according to PSC reports.

John Ramer, director of the Fond du Lac Economic Development Authority, said the PSC’s failure to order We Energies to include the Calpine project in its electricity plan was one of the first times in history that the low-cost project was not selected. He said he did not oppose the We Energies’ plants but that the Calpine project was needed first for reliability and affordability.

Nyson said Calpine needs an agreement from We Energies to buy power from the Fond du Lac project before Calpine can begin construction there. “Unfortunately, current state policy does not require utilities like We Energies to consider competitive supply options when they identify a need for a new power plant,” Nyson said. “We are ready to move ahead with construction at Fond du Lac as soon as We Energies is convinced that a power supply contract with us is in their ratepayers’ best interest. Fond du Lac would provide the same level of economic benefits as we are seeing here in Kaukauna in terms of jobs, taxes, etc. and I’m sure that the local workforce would love a chance to participate in another large-scale construction job.”

Nyson added, “It would be very unfortunate for the region and state if a few years from now, Wisconsin suffers an energy crisis that Calpine’s Fond du Lac project might have helped prevent. Even the potential of energy outages can cause substantial harm to the state’s economy, in terms of keeping new business away.”

The comments in support of the Fond du Lac Energy Center came at a legislative forum on economic development and job creation in Northeastern Wisconsin. The forum was hosted by Rep. Terri McCormick (R-Appleton), chair of the Assembly Committee on Economic Development; Rep. Judy Krawczyk (R-Green Bay), chair of the Assembly Committee on Workforce Development; and Rep. Karl Van Roy, chair of the Assembly Committee on Small Business.