THU AM News: Lake Geneva Cruise Line celebrates 150th anniversary; Alliant Energy advancing two solar battery storage projects

— In the 1860s, traveling to Walworth County’s Geneva Lake by horse-drawn wagon or carriage was no easy task.

That changed in July 1871, when the Chicago and Northwestern Railroad was extended to the town of Lake Geneva, cutting the trip to less than a day from the Windy City.

Three months later, the Great Chicago Fire burned more than 17,000 structures and killed 300 people. For those with means, one attractive option for those getting new houses built was moving north to what would become known as the “Newport of the Midwest.’’

“This was still the hinterland, but Lake Geneva boomed after that with estates for the wealthy being built, and later camps and resorts opening,” said Bill Gage Jr., president of the Lake Geneva Cruise Line, which is celebrating its 150th anniversary this year.

The company now has 500 seasonal workers and nearly 200 year-round employees, Gage said. In addition to a fleet of eight passenger boats, the parent company of Gage Marine also includes the popular Pier 290 Restaurant in Williams Bay, a catering business, boat sales, a service and storage company, the Lake Life Store and a pier service company.

In the works is a possible Lake Life Distillery, Gage said.

Because there were no roads circumnavigating the lake until 1910, delivery of goods and transportation to private homes and lodges was by primarily boat — both private and public — in the early days.

Some of the vessels owned by Chicago millionaires to navigate the lake were as opulent as their estates, Gage said. These included the Wrigley, Swift, Moore and Potter families, as well as others. 

One of the companies founded to serve the public was the Lake Geneva Steamship Line, which launched in 1873 with the Lady of the Lake. It competed with the Lucius Newberry, a grand steamer that could carry 700 passengers.

“Those excursion boats were the main forms of transportation back then,” Gage said.

In 1879, John A. Wilson bought both large steamers, forming The Anchor Line, which is the predecessor to Lake Geneva Cruise Line.

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— Alliant Energy is moving forward with two battery energy storage sites in Grant and Wood counties following PSC approval, the company announced. 

These projects will be located near the Madison-based utility’s solar projects in those counties, according to yesterday’s announcement. David de Leon, president of Alliant Energy’s Wisconsin energy company, says the Public Service Commission’s move to approve the projects will “enhance grid reliability and flexibility” across its service area. 

“These projects are another step toward achieving our clean energy goals while enabling a more resilient and cost-effective energy future,” De Leon said in a statement. 

Construction on both projects is slated for early next year, though the Wood County site in the town of Saratoga is expected to be complete first, by the end of 2024. Meanwhile, the Grant County project in the town of Potosi is expected to come online by the middle of 2025. 

Once operational, the storage facilities will be able to collectively power more than 180,000 homes for four hours, according to the release. 

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— Xcel Energy is seeking proposals for solar energy projects to help replace capacity currently served by a coal-fired plant near the Minnesota-Wisconsin border. 

The Minneapolis-based utility company yesterday announced it’s seeking proposals for solar projects, as well as those that combine solar energy with battery storage, to offset the impact of retiring the Allen S. King plant in Oak Park Heights, Minn. That plant is scheduled to go offline in 2028, according to the release. 

Xcel Energy is calling for proposals for about 650 megawatts, which would be enough to power about 135,000 homes per year. These projects would have commercial operation dates from 2027 to 2029, the release shows. 

Xcel Energy Wisconsin and Michigan President Karl Hoesly says the company’s plan “strengthens our commitment to deliver carbon-free energy to customers” across its service area. 

“It will play a vital role in our clean energy transition by reducing carbon emissions and will help our communities by creating jobs during and after construction,” Hoesly said in the release. 

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— Attorney General Josh Kaul has announced a proposed air pollution settlement with Didion Milling and Didion Ethanol that could bring Wisconsin $940,000.

Wisconsin’s complaint against Didion alleges the company’s ethanol production and corn milling facilities committed 31 violations such as failure to control emissions, detect leaks, inspect equipment, keep accurate records, monitor control devices and report emissions. Kaul in a statement said enforcing environmental law to hold offenders accountable is crucial to environmental health.

“To protect clean air, we must effectively enforce the laws that protect us from air pollution,” he said.

Lame duck laws the Legislature passed before Gov. Tony Evers took office means the Republican-controlled Joint Finance Committee still has to sign off on the deal before Wisconsin sees any money. DOJ sent the settlement proposal to JFC, according to yesterday’s press release.

The state Department of Natural Resources worked with the DOJ on the deal, which would help cover court costs, forfeitures and surcharges, if approved.

This settlement is not related to the ongoing lawsuit related to the May 2017 explosion at Didion Milling in Cambria that left five dead. 

The company did not immediately respond to a request for comment. 

See the release: 

— The Wisconsin Laborers’ District Council has elected Kent Miller as the group’s president and business manager. 

According to yesterday’s release, Miller was appointed in September 2022 to finish the term of former President and Business Manager John Schmitt, who retired. He has now been elected to fill the position for a full four-year period. 

In a statement, Miller said the organization needs to continue organizing new members, developing new partnerships with contractors, and “doubling down” on workforce development and recruitment. 

The council is made up of five local unions, representing about 9,000 workers in the state across the construction industry. 

See the release: 

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<i>See these and other press releases: </i>

Xcel Energy: Takes major step toward replacing coalfired King plant with clean energy generation

Dept. of Justice: AG Kaul announces proposed $940,000 settlement with Didion Milling and Didion Ethanol for alleged air pollution violations