Dairyland Power Cooperative site closure signals shift in energy market

dairyland power

GENOA, Wis. (WKBT)– As Dairyland Power Cooperative begins its work to retire its coal-fired Genoa Station, we’re learning more about what led to the decision. The company’s CEO said it largely comes down to demand and where the energy sector is going.

Since it first opened in 1969, the facility has housed a fuel-oil generation plant, a nuclear facility, and a coal-fired station. But as time went on, only the coal-based power plant remained in use. Now, Dairyland Power is considering the future of energy in a changing market.

About 50 years after it opened, what’s known as the G3 facility is in need of a lot of work. Plus, CEO Barb Nick says the economics of coal production will eventually make it more expensive versus other options.

“All of those factors contributed to our decision,” said Nick, who joined the company in December 2014.

Events in the marketplace also influenced the decision to retire the plant.

“You have a greater desire from the public and our members to have more and more renewable energy resources.”

About 24% of Dairyland Power Cooperative’s energy production last year came from renewable resources, according to the company. It has a goal of 50% renewable energy by 2050.

But there’s also a greater desire for lower carbon-emitting resources.

“So that’s a key part of our strategy,” Nick said.

To do that, the company is moving forward with a natural gas power plant in Superior, which was recently approved by Wisconsin’s Public Service Commission.

“These are all part and parcel of our strategic plan to diversify our energy resources,” Nick said.

The Sierra Club applauded the decision to close the coal plant, saying in a statement that one less coal plant will mean progress towards reducing climate-disrupting emissions.  But the environmental group has concerns about potential emissions and other issues at the future plant.

“…Make no mistake: replacing coal with fracked gas would be an economic and environmental disaster. Analysis has shown again and again that there are viable clean energy options available to meet the energy needs of consumers and save them money,” said Sierra Club’s Wisconsin Chapter Director Elizabeth Ward.

According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, natural gas production can have adverse effects on the environment. However, it could emit 50 to 60 percent less Carbon Dioxide at new, efficient plants compared to a typical, new coal plant.

“You’ll continue to see a steady march toward less and less carbon-intensive resources,” Nick said.

Nick said this is all part of Dairyland’s strategy to reduce its carbon footprint while still delivering to customers. While coal and natural gas can be reliable energy sources, customers also want a good price while helping the planet.

“If you really ask people what they want, they want reliability, they want affordability and they want sustainability,” Nick said.

The difficulty for the energy sector is finding a balance between all three.

The company’s CEO says when the plant retires, it will be decommissioned. It could take a few years to complete before it could return to an industrial site. They’ve already started to consider what could happen there in the future.