Cassville plan rejection demonstrates greener thinking

Just one week after Dairyland Power Cooperative suspended plans for a coal ash landfill in Vernon County, state regulators rejected a plan to build a new coal-fired power plant in southwestern Wisconsin.

The Public Service Commission rejected a proposed $1.3 billion 300-megawatt mostly coal-fired power plant proposed by Wisconsin Power & Light at Cassville.

The Alliant Energy subsidiary has been working for months to win permission for the plant on the Mississippi River. The company maintained the plant could produce enough energy to power 150,000 homes.

Environmentalists opposed the project. An environmental impact statement prepared by the PSC and the Department of Natural Resources for the Cassville plant stated that emissions from the plant were likely to cause or worsen violations of ozone and fine particulate standards.

Alliant said it would use renewable fuel for 20 percent of the plant’s output and shut down an aging coal-fired boiler in Sheboygan. The village of Cassville, labor unions, and the biofuel industry supported the proposal.

PSC Chairman Eric Callisto said the project looked too expensive and the emissions control proposals would not offset the plant’s pollution. He suggested Alliant buy power from elsewhere or consider natural gas-fired plants.

This decision, coupled with Dairyland Power’s decision — the subject of last week’s column — truly demonstrates that people in western Wisconsin, ranging from citizens to company execs and regulators, have become more serious about seeking alternative energy.

Rob Crain, a spokesman for WPL and its parent company Alliant Energy, said the commission’s written decision will be reviewed, but an appeal is unlikely. He said the company is committed to working with the PSC on alternatives.

That is smart strategy, and will end up being better business for WPL and Alliant in the long run. Dairyland changed its image in many people’s eyes by dropping its plans for a ash dump. It too has vowed to seek alternatives to coal, and to work on recycling of coal ash from scrubbers intended to clean up the air. WPL and Alliant have been given the opportunity to do the same.

PSC officials said public input played a role in their decision to reject the Cassville plans. Citizens groups also played a role in Dairyland’s decision on the coal ash dump. Those groups became very organized and were raising funds for a legal fight if necessary.

A plant in Portage also has been raising protests from citizens’ groups. More than 4,500 negative comments about the proposal were submitted electronically to the PSC, about 10 times as many as those in support, according to Clean Wisconsin.

PSC officials said natural gas and other alternatives should be explored for new plants. Environmental groups, such as Clean Wisconsin and others, favor increased development of wind, solar and biomass energy.

Of course, we still need the electric power, and jobs are created at these plants. For years, those two facts have been used to justify continuing down the road of coal-powered plants and other polluting energy sources.

But, there is ample evidence that people at the grassroots level “get it.” They want their energy to come from sources that pollute as little as possible.

They are speaking out about it, and regulators, and somewhat begrudgingly company execs, gradually are “getting it” too.

That pressure from the grassroots, and likely from the top too once Barack Obama takes over as president, could eventually lead to cleaner energy, jobs in creating that energy and manufacturing the technology to produce it, and overall greener and better business practices.