, , , ,

Alliant Energy Unveils $900M Solar Investment As Part Of Clean Energy Transition

6 Projects Would Produce Two-Thirds Of Alliant's 1K Megawatt Goal

A field of dark blue panels soak up sunlight while a worker installs them.
In this Aug. 8, 2019, photo a worker helps to install solar panels onto a roof at the Van Nuys Airport in the Van Nuys section of Los Angeles. Richard Vogel/AP Photo

Madison-based Alliant Energy is announcing a $900 million plan to add 675 megawatts of solar across six counties as part of its goal to add 1,000 megawatts of solar power by the end of 2023. The announcement follows the utility’s decision on Friday to shutter its Edgewater coal plant in Sheboygan.

The six solar projects in Grant, Jefferson, Richland, Rock, Sheboygan and Wood counties are expected to power 175,000 homes each year. The increasing cost to operate coal-fired plants, falling price of renewable energy and customer demand are driving forces behind the utility’s investment in renewables.

The investment is expected to create more than 1,200 construction jobs and provide roughly $80 million in local tax revenues over the next three decades, said David de Leon, president of Alliant subsidiary Wisconsin Power and Light.

Stay informed on the latest news

Sign up for WPR’s email newsletter.

This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

“It really builds on strengthening those communities — those smaller communities …” said de Leon. “And, when we think about really from a cleaner environment standpoint, this is the right thing for us to do for our customers in the communities that we serve.”

Alliant said the projects and the utility’s plans to transition to clean energy are expected to save customers $2 billion over the long-term by avoiding costly investments in coal-fired generation. The utility is planning to finance 35 to 40 percent of the project through a private investor in order to take advantage of federal tax credits. Alliant is working with several developers on the project, including NextEra Energy Resources, Ranger Power, Savion and Geronimo Energy.

Alliant Energy Six Solar Projects
Alliant is planning six solar projects to produce 675 megawatts of power as part of plans to generate 1,000 megawatts by 2023.
Table courtesy of Alliant Energy

The utility said its investment in solar power, as well as the closure of the Edgewater plant, will reduce carbon emissions by 40 percent. Alliant has set a goal to cut carbon emissions 80 percent by 2050. Gov. Tony Evers has set a goal for the state’s utilities to produce carbon-free electricity by 2050 as well.

The projects would be subject to regulatory approval. Alliant hopes to begin construction next year and have the projects in service by 2023.

Environmental groups have supported the utility’s transition to cleaner, more cost-effective energy sources.

On Monday, the Sierra Club released a paper that states Alliant lost $16 million through operation of the Edgewater and Columbia coal plants last year, adding customers would save millions if the utility retired both plants. Columbia Energy Center in Pardeeville is the remaining coal-generating station that Alliant co-owns with Wisconsin Public Service and Madison Gas and Electric.

Elizabeth Ward, director of the Wisconsin Chapter of the Sierra Club, said they’re encouraged by Alliant’s plans to close Edgewater and invest in solar.

“It’s critical that we retire coal in order to stop the worst impacts of climate change, and now it’s really clear that we need to retire coal in order to protect ratepayers (from) the cost of these coal plants,” said Ward. “And, so there’s really no reason for them not to be moving forward with making plans to retire the (Columbia) coal plant.”

The Sierra Club delivered 1,000 petitions last week to Alliant Energy and the plant’s co-owners, calling on them to retire the facility by 2030. The paper states that operating Edgewater and Columbia through 2030 would cost ratepayers up to $461 million.

Alliant said Friday retiring the Edgewater facility is expected to save customers about $200 million in near-term costs, adding the utility is still evaluating plans for the Columbia plant.

“Accelerating retirement (of Columbia) is definitely something that is being discussed, but we don’t have a specific date,” said de Leon.

Alliant is among seven utilities that own around 5,300 megawatts of the state’s remaining coal capacity, according to the Sierra Club. The U.S. Energy Information Administration reports the state’s coal-fired plants provided 42 percent of Wisconsin’s electricity in 2019, which is the first time coal made up less than half of Wisconsin’s power mix in more than 30 years.