Alliant Energy has announced plans to purchase about $900 million worth of new solar power plants in Wisconsin.
The six projects totaling 675 megawatts of capacity — enough to power about 175,000 typical Wisconsin homes for a year — are the first phase in the Madison-based utility’s plans to add up to 1,000 megawatts of solar by 2024.
The acquisition would make Alliant the largest solar operator in Wisconsin.
Alliant plans to file applications Wednesday with the Public Service Commission for permission to purchase the solar projects, which range in size from 50 to 200 megawatts and are under development in Grant, Jefferson, Richland, Rock, Sheboygan and Wood counties.
All six projects are being developed by private, unregulated companies. Five are in the permitting pipeline; Alliant and Ranger Power announced plans Tuesday to seek a conditional use permit later this year for the sixth, a 75-megawatt project in the town of Jefferson.
Alliant noted the solar plants will provide rental income for landowners and generate about $80 million over 30 years in local tax revenue while avoiding ratepayer costs for fuel, maintenance and upgrades needed to run the Edgewater 5 coal plant, which will be shut down in the next two years.
“Solar energy is a smart investment for our Wisconsin customers,” David de Leon, president of the Alliant Wisconsin utility, said in a statement. “Along with the rest of the Clean Energy Blueprint, these projects will help customers avoid more than $2 billion in long-term costs.”
Jeff Ripp, director of regulatory strategy for Alliant, said 35% to 40% of the project cost would be financed through a private-sector partner in order to take advantage of federal tax credits.
Because Alliant is proposing to buy the plants rather than seeking permits to build them, the utility will have to convince regulators the purchase is in the best interest of ratepayers. Decisions about whether to build the plants will be considered separately.
The PSC is expected to issue a decision early next year. If approved, the plants would come online by the end of 2023.
The announcement came just days after Alliant announced plans to retire the 35-year-old, 380-megawatt Edgewater plant in Sheboygan and marks another step toward the utility’s plan to cut 80% of its carbon emissions by 2050.
It also comes the same day the Sierra Club released a white paper saying Alliant could save ratepayers hundreds of millions of dollars more by also shuttering the 1,100-megawatt Columbia Energy Center near Portage, which has been in operation since the 1970s and is co-owned by Wisconsin Public Service and Madison Gas and Electric.
According to the Sierra Club report, the Columbia plant lost money in three of the past five years, costing ratepayers an estimated $9 million in 2019 because it cost more to operate than the price of wholesale electricity.
While not addressing the Sierra Club findings, Alliant said closing the Edgewater plant would save ratepayers about $200 million and that it is continuing to evaluate the future of its other coal plants.
Earlier this month, Alliant began commercial operation of a $700 million natural gas plant in Beloit, which added 730 megawatts of capacity to the company’s portfolio.
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