August 7, 2018 Read More →

Wisconsin utility exec: ‘It doesn’t make sense’ to keep coal plants online

“Dan Krueger, senior vice president for WEC Energy Group, says “it doesn’t make sense” to keep running some coal plants as energy production shifts over to natural gas and renewables like wind and solar.

He spoke yesterday on an energy industry panel at the Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce Policy Day 2018.

WEC Energy Group is a utility holding company that runs WPS and WE Energies in Wisconsin, and has 60 percent ownership in American Transmission Company. In its Midwest service area, the company has 1.6 million electric customers and 2.9 million natural gas customers, with nearly 70,00 miles of electric distribution and 48,000 miles of gas distribution.

Energy production from coal is steadily transitioning to natural gas in Wisconsin, according to Dean Foreman, chief economist for the American Petroleum Institute.

This process has been taking place since 2005, he said, as both natural gas and renewable energy sources become more economically viable. Lucas Vebber, general counsel and director of energy and environmental policy for WMC, says the same thing has been happening throughout the country.

This trend is highlighted by the example of WEC Energy Group, which is going through a “profound shift” in its energy mix, according to Krueger. He says the company is shutting down four of its coal-fired power plants, and replacing them with “cleaner, newer generating assets that actually reduce customers costs.”

“It’s fairly expensive to operate these plants, and with the reduction in natural gas prices, that’s what sets the market in generation, is the cheapest marginal plant,” he said. “The cheapest marginal plant is usually a gas plant, so it doesn’t make sense to run these [coal] plants anymore.”

WEC is planning to build some natural gas fuel generation capacity in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, Krueger said, while also adding “quite a bit of zero carbon generation.”

He notes that solar prices have gone down by as much as 80 percent for entities that can buy millions of panels at a time.

“We are deploying these massive solar fields if the (Wisconsin Public Utility) commission gives us approval,” he said. “We will continue to do more of that, and we expect customer rates to decline.”

More: Energy production shifting from coal to natural gas and renewables

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