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OPINION - The Weston Power Plant and the green report

by Chris Conley

NEWS BLOG (WSAU)  The Wisconsin Environment Research and Policy Center is out with a report on the dirtiest power plants in the state. There are two things that are disingenuous about the report, and they should be pointed out.

First, the Weston Power Plant, owned by Wisconsin Public Service, is on the list. Second, the report’s recommendations are unrealistic and leave out an obvious solution.

The Weston Power Plant is actually four-plants-in-one. There are four coal-fired boilers on the site. The oldest, (Weston One) which dates back to 1954, is also the smallest in terms of power generation. The newest (Weston Four) was completed in 2008 and generates about 6-times as much power as the oldest boiler.

To lump the Weston Power Plant into one combined unit for an environmental report on smokestack emissions is deceptive. During periods of normal demand, the Weston 4 boiler generates most of the electricity. It has the most modern environmental technology and, if it was a stand-alone facility, would be one of the cleanest coal-fired plants in the country. Recall that environmental-friendly governor Jim Doyle personally streamlined the DNR and PSC review processes to get the permits in place for the facility, and proudly posed for pictures at the ribbon-cutting. Generally the cleaner, more modern 3 and 4 boilers carry most of the weight at the plant. The futures of the 1 and 2 boilers are uncertain because of new emissions standards.

The research report wants all of the five dirtiest plants phased out. Their solutions: wind and solar. Neither are adequate replacements for coal-powered energy. Some parts of California have mandated rooftop solar panels for most new homes. They add about $7,000 to the building costs, and are only powerful enough to run the hot-water heater. The average family’s hot water heater costs $60 a month to operate. The technology takes about 115 years to pay for itself. It’s the kind of decision that would be made only under government mandate. A solar-panel system that covers your entire roof costs between $12,000 and $15,000 – and your home would still need to remain connected to the electric grid for nighttime power and to operate high-energy appliances like dishwashers, washing machines, and air conditioning. And wind power is even less reliable and has even higher costs.

What The Wisconsin Environment Research and Policy Center leaves out is nuclear power. France has almost no smokestack emissions from power generation. More than 70-percent of its electricity comes from nuclear plants. There are ten countries that get 1/3 of their power from nuclear: France, Bulgaria, Finland, Sweden, Belgium, Hungary, Switzerland, Ukraine, Slovenia, and the Czech Republic. This is clean, safe power (of course, power plants can’t be built near fault lines like in Japan, or with outdated technology like Chernobyl). The problem with building new nuclear plants in the U.S. is the lawsuits from environmental groups and the delays caused by them that makes the economically unfeasible.

Nuclear plants replace coal fired plants almost one-to-one. Energy forecasts that omit nuclear as an option are simply not realistic.

Chris Conley