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WUWM's Susan Bence reports on Wisconsin environmental issues.

Regulators approve new central Wisconsin natural gas power plant amidst concern

Kuester Generating Station in Upper Michigan
Courtesy of We Energies
The Kuester Generating Station in Upper Michigan is similar to the proposed We Energies / Wisconsin Public Service Corporation project.

Despite objections from environmental groups and a nonprofit consumer group, state regulators approved the construction of a new natural gas power plant south of Wausau in Marathon County, Wisconsin.

Thursday, the Wisconsin Public Service Commission voted 2 to 1 to set the $171 million joint We Energies and Green Bay-based utility Wisconsin Public Service Corporation project in motion.

The utilities say the project is a necessary element of their generation reshaping plan. As they transition to cleaner energy sources, they say the natural gas plant will provide backup to make sure customers have reliable power.

In an email, We Energies spokesperson Brendan Conway said: "We appreciate the Commission and staff’s thorough review and the Commission’s approval of this important project — which supports our efforts to aggressively reduce greenhouse gas emissions while providing affordable, reliable and clean energy. This modern and low-carbon generation resource will help us ensure reliability as we add more wind and solar farms in Wisconsin."

As PSC Chairperson Rebecca Valcq cast her vote in favor of the project, she said: “For me the biggest key is the dispatch ability. We know that as we’re transitioning to more intermittent resources, the need to be able to ramp up quickly is going to be what helps us keep the lights on as we make this transition."

The Sierra Club is among the groups that opposed the plan, saying the use of fossil fuel-derived natural gas would continue to cause emissions that contribute to climate change.

Tom Content with the Citizen Utility Board, or CUB, thinks the applicants failed to consider the likelihood of higher natural gas prices in the years ahead. “We’re living in this moment of high natural gas prices, much higher than they were a year ago. People are seeing in that in their energy bills. And then as soon as they closed the record on this case, there’s a war impacting petroleum prices, including natural gas. And the talk in the industry now is U.S. exports are going to be surging. There’s a lot of reasons to believe gas prices aren’ t going to be coming down to some of the optimistic scenarios that were put in here," he said.

CUB argued ratepayers will pay the price.

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Susan is WUWM's environmental reporter.
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