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Regulators approve second phase of Alliant Energy's $1.5 billion clean energy plan

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Wisconsin regulators have approved the second piece of Alliant Energy’s plans to spend more than $1.5 billion to replace its coal-fired plants with solar energy.

The Public Service Commission voted unanimously Thursday to authorize Alliant to buy or build six solar farms at a cost of about $620 million.

The projects in Dodge, Grant, Green, Rock and Waushara counties will have a combined capacity of 414 megawatts, enough to power about 100,000 typical homes.

The vote comes about a year after the PSC approved a roughly $925 million investment in 675 megawatts of solar spread over six projects currently under development.

Together the projects are part of Alliant’s plans to replace its remaining Wisconsin coal plants in the next two years, which the utility estimates will save consumers $1.52 billion to $6.15 billion over the next 35 years.

Alliant also plans to eliminate or offset all carbon emissions by 2050.

Commission members agreed Alliant’s economic modeling was robust, but Commissioner Ellen Nowak noted the clean energy transition is not without costs.

“There are long-term savings for customers. The hard part is the cost comes now, early on,” Nowak said. “While there are a lot of benefits there are also costs along the way —not just monetary costs but the land use.”

Five of the projects are smaller than 100 megawatts, requiring only local construction permits. The commission previously approved construction of the 100-megawatt Springfield Solar project in Dodge County.

The commission voted 2-1 to require Alliant to report the number of construction jobs filled by Wisconsin workers.

A recent study sponsored by labor and construction groups found local workers generate more than twice the economic activity as out-of-state workers.

“I think it behooves us to collect the data,” said Commissioner Tyler Huebner. “If we ask for the data we have it. I think it’s in the public interest.”

Nowak dissented, saying it may not be feasible and that the commission has no authority to require local labor.

“I hope they hire Wisconsin workers,” she said. “But … all companies should be allowed to compete.”

Renew Wisconsin hailed the commission’s decision while warning that a federal trade investigation could delay construction and add to the project costs.

Based on a complaint from a single U.S. company, the Commerce Department is investigating claims of trade violations by solar manufacturers in Cambodia, Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam, which together produce about 80% of all U.S. solar panel imports.

Renew executive director Heather Allen said if not resolved soon, the investigation could jeopardize some 2,500 megawatts of solar energy development in Wisconsin.

“Until this investigation closes, all shipments … are at risk. The biggest projects are the ones most at risk,” Allen said. “Ultimately that costs ratepayers more money.”

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