Edgewater coal plant closure signals move towards renewable energy

    Milwaukee's 2019 People's Climate March. Photo by: Isiah Holmes
    Milwaukee's 2019 People's Climate March. Photo by: Isiah Holmes

    By the end of 2022 Alliant Energy, a Madison-based energy company, will be shuttering the Edgewater coal plant in Sheboygan. By closing the plant, the company said in a press release, it hopes to transition to renewable energy, and avoid long-term costs for current customers.

    “For decades, our Edgewater Generating Station has been providing customers and communities safe and reliable energy,” said David de Leon, president of Alliant’s Wisconsin Power and Light  Company. “As we transition from coal toward a cleaner energy mix, we are caring for our employees, creating new jobs and bringing new economic development opportunities to the communities we serve.”

    Revitalizing the coal industry was one of President Donald Trump’s main campaign promises back in 2016. Not only has that not happened, but use of coal energy has continued to decline throughout his administration. In some cases, as with sand fracking, these changes may be due to the shifting tides of business. In others, companies seem to have realized that the future is quickly running out of room for dirty energy.

    “Alliant made the right decision,” said Elizabeth Katt Reiners, deputy director of the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign, in a statement. “Coal costs us. The Edgewater coal plant is losing millions of dollars each year, and Alliant’s decision to return the plant early will deliver those savings to customers. If Alliant replaces this power with clean energy, it can save consumers even more at a time where many families are struggling with monthly bills.”

    Through executive orders, Gov. Tony Evers has set a goal for Wisconsin to utilize 100% carbon-free electricity by 2050. Supporting this strategy, climate and energy sustainability task forces have been formed at the state and local levels. Environmental groups have also organized separately to take on what remains of the coal industry.

    In August 2019, Clean Wisconsin joined other groups in suing the Trump Administration for weakening the Clean Air Act. Now, nine months later, Clean Wisconsin is pleased to see Alliant signaling its willingness to change. “Each day that renewable energy prices drop is another day customers are faced with added costs to support electricity generated by coal,” said Scott Blankman, director for Clean Wisconsin’s Energy and Air Program. “Cheap, clean energy such as wind and solar is continuing to make coal plants like Edgewater 5 simply uneconomical to operate.”

    De Leon agrees that there’s both an economic and a community interest in closing the plant in a couple of short years. “We have a long history and deep roots in the Sheboygan area and we’re going to continue supporting the community, our customers and employees.” He adds that “our shift toward cleaner energy generation is driven by our value to do the right thing. We are focusing on lowering costs, creating environmental benefits, meeting customer demand and being a good partner with the communities we serve.”

    In place of coal power, the company has made investments in the creation of up to 1,000 megawatts of solar energy in the Badger State. Transitioning may also have positive impacts on the health of the surrounding community. “For residents of Sheboygan County,” said Reinders, “air pollution also costs their health. The retirement of Edgewater will result in one less contributor to poor air quality and one less driver of climate change for all of us. This decision will deliver progress for climate action, progress for public health and needed economic relief for customers.”

    Isiah Holmes
    Isiah Holmes is a journalist and videographer, and a lifelong resident of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Holmes' video work dates back to his high school days at Wauwatosa East High, when he made a documentary about the local police department. Since then, his writing has been featured in Urban Milwaukee, Isthmus, Milwaukee Stories, Milwaukee Neighborhood News Services, Pontiac Tribune, and other outlets.