Another coal plant on river raises questions

A coalition of union, farm and environmental groups has lauded Alliant Energy’s proposed coal power plant in Cassville.

Supporters like the fact Alliant proposes to produce up to 20 percent of the plant’s power from wood and non-food crops such as switch grass and cornstalks.

Certainly, some foresight is being shown by using the alternative sources, and Alliant will create hundreds of construction jobs in building the plant and 40 fulltime jobs at it. All these things should indeed be lauded.

But, building another coal powered plant, along the Mississippi River, also does raise some questions — a few which are being raised rather loudly just up river at Dairyland Power Co-op’s Genoa plant.

Much has been written in this column and elsewhere about Dairyland’s problem with storing coal ash from its Genoa plant. Nobody wants the stuff anywhere near their backyard, or in the case of Vernon County residents anywhere in their county.

The problem has been created in part because Dairyland is installing scrubbers to make their air emissions cleaner In doing so though, the leftover coal ash contains lime, which limits its recycling possibilities, according to the co-op’s officials.

Dairyland also does not have the space on its own property to land fill the ash. That’s in part because the plant is pinned up against the Mississippi River.

It very well could be that Alliant’s proposed plant won’t have the same ash problem because of its use of alternative sources. They also might have plans in mind for storing whatever ash is produced. But, to date, that potential problem has not been adequately addressed in public statements.

Alliant officials have said additional emissions of carbon dioxide will be offset by initiatives like greater use of energy efficiency and renewable energy. Statewide, the company will offset overall emissions by shutting down an aging coal operation in Sheboygan.

But, what about any leftover ash? Clean Wisconsin and other groups also have raised questions about the increases in costs of the plant — to what is now estimated at $1.2 billion to $1.3 billion — and about only “off-setting emissions” when what needs to be done is ‘reducing them pretty dramatically’.”

Hearings on the proposed plant will be held in upcoming weeks. These questions and others should be adequately addressed, and conveyed to the public via the media, before any additional work is done.

Alliant does seem to have a business plan that includes long term vision which takes in the environment as a major factor. Groups like the Wisconsin Wildlife Federation have supported the plant because they promote the use of switch grass, which also provides bird habitat.

It’s also good to see that Alliant won’t further dig into the corn as food supply. Of course, that has become a problem for ethanol plants. But, by using corn stalks rather than the ears, Alliant can avoid the problem.

Alliant might have a chance to build a plant that truly deserves the praise its plans are receiving, and is looked at as a truly green operation years from now.

But, first it has to adequately address some of these potential problems, so it doesn’t have the same problems Dairyland faces today.