WisBusiness: MGE’s Wolter endorses nuclear power plants

By Brian E. Clark

Nuclear plants must be part of the future energy mix if the United States wants to meet growing power needs and reduce global warming, Madison Gas & Electric chairman Gary Wolter said today.

But don’t expect any of those plants to be built in Wisconsin, added Wolter, who is also president and CEO of MGE. He spoke at a luncheon sponsored by WisBusiness.com, Madison Magazine and the Madison Club.

Wolter said no Badger State utilities have the financial wherewithal to pay for a nuclear plant. He also noted that Wisconsin law precludes even planning for such a facility until there is a place for disposal of the radioactive waste produced by a nuclear plant.

“They will be built in places other than Wisconsin,” he stated. “About 20 are in some phase of planning.”

Wolter, who has headed MGE since 1999, said he believes conservation efforts make the most sense for any renewable policy.

“If you can get the same level of economic output by using two-thirds of the energy, that is good for society,” said Wolter, who said his company is making a major investment in wind power.

Wolter said he supports efforts to wean the United States from foreign oil. He also said he thinks technology will eventually make big dents in this country’s energy consumption.

In the meantime, though, he said the country will remain dependent on coal – in large part because it is mined in the U.S. and is relatively cheap.

The downside, he acknowledged, is that coal-fired plants release carbon dioxide, a major culprit in global warming, into the atmosphere.

Wolter said he sympathizes with the American Transmission Company, which wants to build a large power line across Dane County and has aroused the ire of many who do not like either of the two locations that it has proposed.

He said siting power plants and transmission lines is never easy, but he said he believes most observers would agree that the county’s rapid growth requires new power lines. Since its creation several years ago as a spin-off from state utilities, he said ATC has been doing a good job of building for the future.

In other comments, Wolter said:

– Dane County’s economy is doing well. He said he hopes that communities in the region will work together to deal with transportation, sprawl, quality of life and other potential problems. “We can’t live in a cocoon,” he said.

– The Midwest Independent Transmission System Operator (MISO), which coordinates energy distribution in the region, is doing a good job. However, he said states and utilities must continue to put pressure on MISO to hold costs down.

– He feels for UW Madison officials, who must figure out what to do with the much-criticized Charter Street coal-fired plant. MGE recently decided to decommission its Blount Street plant, which also burns coal, in 2011.

The Sierra Club has filed suit against the university alleging that it has repaired the Charter Street coal-fired power plant numerous times without retrofitting it with modern pollution controls required under the federal law.

– Consumers should think more about energy use when they buy vehicles, appliances and consumer items. “We need to do more about our energy choices and waste less,” he said.

– MGE’s “green” energy program now has nearly 4,500 users. He said he hopes to triple that figure to around 15,000 in several years. MGE has about 130,000 total customers.

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