Wisconsin and coal

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Wisconsin had 70 coal-fired generating stations in 2005, with 7,123 MW of capacity - representing 42.5% of the state's total electric generation capacity.[1]

In 2006, Wisconsin's coal-fired power plants produced 43.7 million tons of CO2, 185,000 tons of sulfur dioxide, and 65,000 tons of nitrogen oxide; coal-fired power plants were responsible for 41.7% of the state's total CO2 emissions.[2] In 2005, Wisconsin emitted 18.9 tons of CO2 per person; the state had the 29th highest per capita level of CO2 emissions.[3]

No coal was mined in Wisconsin in 2006.[4] Thus, the state relies on coal imports from Wyoming, Appalachia, and southern Illinois; the state imported 27 million tons of coal in 2005.[5]


Citizen activism

Public opposition to Valley Power Plant's air pollution

DNR issues Air Quality Watch for entire state of Wisconsin

On February 9, 2009, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources issued an Air Quality Watch for Particle Pollution for the entire state. The watch was issued based on a forecast for elevated levels of fine particles in the air. Fine particle pollution, which is comprised of microscopic dust, soot, liquid droplets and smoke particles smaller than 2.5 microns, originate mainly from combustion sources, such as power plants, factories, vehicle exhaust, and wood burning.

Thomas White, President of the NAACP of Wisconsin on air pollution in Milwaukee, WI. Part One.

The Air Quality Index was expected to reach the orange level, which is considered unhealthy for people with heart or lung diseases, older adults, and children. The DNR advised people in these groups reschedule or cut back on strenuous activities during the watch period.[6]

Governor Doyle announces coal phase-out at UW

In February 2009, Governor Jim Doyle announced that the University of Wisconsin's Charter Street Heating Plant will phase out coal. Gov. Doyle said that a biomass boiler will be installed by 2012 in an effort to generate 25 percent of the state's energy from renewable resources by the year 2025. The over $200 million investment will eliminate the burning of over 100 tons of coal.[7]

Explosion at We Energy's Oak Creek power plant

Thomas White, President of the NAACP of Wisconsin on air pollution in Milwaukee, WI. Part Two.

On February 4, 2009, six people were injured during an explosion and fire at the Oak Creek power plant owned by Wisconsin Energy (WE). The explosion occurred at a plant silo used to collect dust after coal is dumped into the hopper. All of the people hurt were contractors working in the hopper at the time. The most severely burned patient suffered second- and third-degree burns on his hands, face and back.[8]

The company is currently building two new units of 615 MW in at the plant,[9] but said the area where the explosion occurred was not part of the new construction on the facility.[8]

Governor Doyle retires two coal plants

In August, 2008, Wisconsin Governor Jim Doyle announced that two aging coal plants, the Charter Street Heating Plant and the Capitol Heat and Power Plant, both located in Dane County, will be shut down and replaced with cleaner systems. The decision followed legal action and grassroots protests and lobbying by members of the Sierra Club, students at the University of Wisconsin, and other activists. August 2008[10]

Oak Creek permit settlement uncertain

Environmental groups refused to revise a deal to settle litigation over Oak Creek Units 1 & 2 to address concerns raised by state regulators. The proposed settlement would see the Sierra Club and Clean Wisconsin drop their challenge to environmental permits issued for the project, in exchange for a WE commitment to fund environmental projects in Lake Michigan and expand renewable energy projects in the state. Under the agreement, We Energies, Madison Gas & Electric Co., and WPPI Energy would spend $4 million per year for 25 years on projects to improve water quality in Lake Michigan. An additional $5 million would be allocated to create a nonprofit group focused on efforts to reduce global warming emissions. PSC regulators are hesitant to raise customer rates to fund the Lake Michigan projects, which could prompt the environmental groups to revive their lawsuits. If the groups win, the cost of litigation could add more than $1 billion to the cost of the power plant, as opposed to the $100 million cost of the settlement.[11]

Koch Industries, Scott Walker, and the state's power plants

In Feb. 2011, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker introduced a governor’s budget repair bill that would deny collective-bargaining rights to public-sector workers, and included language that would allow for the selling off of state-owned power plants, as well as allow officials appointed by the governor to make sweeping cuts in health coverage for low-income families without having to go through the normal legislative process.[12]

Among those supporting the bill were Americans for Prosperity, with state records showing that Koch Industries, whose energy and consumer products conglomerate is based in Wichita, Kansas, was one of the biggest contributors to the election campaign of Walker. Koch owns a coal company subsidiary with facilities throughout Wisconsin, including in Green Bay, Manitowoc, Ashland and Sheboygan.[13] This subidiary is known as C. Reiss Coal Company.[14]

The bill included a Governor's request for sole power to sell off Wisconsin state owned power plants: “the department may sell any state-owned heating, cooling, and power plant or may contract with a private entity for the operation of any such plant, with or without solicitation of bids, for any amount that the department determines to be in the best interest of the state. Notwithstanding ss. 196.49 and 196.80, no approval or certification of the public service commission is necessary for a public utility to purchase, or contract for the operation of, such a plant, and any such purchase is considered to be in the public interest and to comply with the criteria for certification of a project under s. 196.49 (3) (b).” (Budget Repair Bill, Section 44, 16.896).[12]

According to N.Y. Times columnist Paul Krugman: "The state of Wisconsin owns a number of plants supplying heating, cooling, and electricity to state-run facilities (like the University of Wisconsin). The language in the budget bill would, in effect, let the governor privatize any or all of these facilities at whim. Not only that, he could sell them, without taking bids, to anyone he chooses. And note that any such sale would, by definition, be 'considered to be in the public interest.'” There is speculation that Koch Industries would be sold the plants.[12]

Group Anonymous targets Koch in retaliation

On February 27, 2011, Wikileaks supporter Anonymous announced an attack on Koch Industries[15] as a response to the Wisconsin protests. Between 1997 and 2008, David and Charles Koch collectively gave more than $17 million to groups lobbying against unions[16]; the Kochs are one of (Republican) Governor Walker's largest corporate supporters.[17] Anonymous accused the brothers of attempting "to usurp American Democracy" and called for a boycott of all Koch Industries products.[18][19]

Under "Operation Wisconsin," Anonymous members took down the website of the Koch-funded group Americans for Prosperity with a distributed denial of service attack on Feb. 27, 2011. In a press release, Anonymous wrote:[20]

"Koch Industries, and oligarchs like them, have most recently started to manipulate the political agenda in Wisconsin. Governor Walker's union-busting budget plan contains a clause that went nearly unnoticed. This clause would allow the sale of publicly owned utility plants in Wisconsin to private parties (specifically, Koch Industries) at any price, no matter how low, without a public bidding process. The Koch's have helped to fuel the unrest in Wisconsin and the drive behind the bill to eliminate the collective bargaining power of unions in a bid to gain a monopoly over the state's power supplies."

Legislative issues

Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker was a long time ALEC member during his time as a state legislator (1993 - 2002), and listed his ALEC membership in the official Blue Book. Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald and Assembly Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald, as well as chairs of the Wisconsin Joint Committee on Finance Robin Vos and Alberta Darling, are also ALEC members. The Center for Media and Democracy has identified at least 52 ALEC members in the Wisconsin state legislature.[21]

Proposed coal plants



Coal lobbying groups

Coal power companies

Existing coal plants

Wisconsin had 70 coal-fired power units at 27 locations in 2005, with 7,123 megawatts (MW) of capacity.

Here is a list of coal power plants in Wisconsin with capacity over 400 MW:[1][22]

Plant Name County Owner Year(s) Built Capacity 2006 SO2 Emissions SO2/MW Rank
Pleasant Prairie Kenosha Wisconsin Energy 1980, 1985 1233 MW 28,566 tons 120
Oak Creek/Elm Road Plant Brown Wisconsin Energy 2010, 2011 1230 MW 100
South Oak Creek Milwaukee Wisconsin Energy 1959-67 1192 MW 13,594 tons 198
Columbia Columbia Alliant Energy 1975, 1978 1023 MW 22,396 tons 145
Edgewater Sheboygan Alliant Energy 1951, 1969, 1985 770 MW 15,759 tons 128
Weston Marathon Integrys 1954-60, 1981 492 MW 12,596 tons 127
Pulliam Brown Integrys 1943-64 410 MW 10,869 tons 100

These six plants represent 71.9% of Wisconsin's coal energy generating capacity.

For a map of existing coal plants in the state, see the bottom of this page.

Coal Ash Waste and Water Contamination

In August 2010 a study released by the Environmental Integrity Project, the Sierra Club and Earthjustice reported that Wisconsin, along with 34 states, had significant groundwater contamination from coal ash that was not regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The report, in an attempt to pressure the EPA to regulate coal ash, noted that most states do not monitor drinking water contamination levels near waste disposal sites.[23] The report mentioned Wisconsin's Columbia Energy Center and Oak Creek Power Plant as two sites that have groundwater contamination due to coal ash waste.[24]

October 2011: Oak Creek Power Plant floods coal ash into Lake Michigan

On October 31, 2011 following a landslide, coal ash from Wisconsin Energy's Oak Creek Power Plant in Wisconsin spilled directly into Lake Michigan. About 2,500 cubic yards of ash reportedly reached the water.[25] It was reported on November 9, 2011 that the Sierra Club was suing Wisconsin Energy, alleging the spill will "pose an imminent and substantial endangerment to human health and the environment."[26]

Study finds dangerous level of hexavalent chromium at Wisconsin coal waste site

The study "EPA’s Blind Spot: Hexavalent Chromium in Coal Ash," released by EarthJustice and the Sierra Club in early February 2011, reported that the level of hexavalent chromium, a highly potent cancer-causing chemical, at a coal ash site associated with the Asheville Plant was 83 parts per billion.[27] That level is 4,150 times as high as California's drinking water goal, and 66% above North Carolina's groundwater standard. In all, the study cited 29 sites in 17 states where hexavalent chromium contamination was found. The information was gathered from existing EPA data on coal ash as well as from studies by EarthJustice, the Environmental Integrity Project, and the Sierra Club.[28][29][30][31] It included locations in Alabama, Arkansas, Delaware, Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Minnesota, Massachusetts, North Carolina, North Dakota, Nevada, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Virgina and Wisconsin. In Wisconsin, the Lemberber Landfill coal waste site and Dairyland Power Cooperative's Stoneman Generating Station's ash disposal pond was reported as having high levels of hexavalent chromium.[27]

According to the report, the electric power industry is the leading source of chromium and chromium compounds released into the environment, representing 24 percent of releases by all industries in 2009.[27]

A press release about the report read:

Hexavalent chromium first made headlines after Erin Brockovich sued Pacific Gas & Electric because of poisoned drinking water from hexavalent chromium. Now new information indicates that the chemical has readily leaked from coal ash sites across the U.S. This is likely the tip of the iceberg because most coal ash dump sites are not adequately monitored.[32]

Wisconsin May Shut Down Five Coal Plants

In 2007 the Sierra Club challenged the State of Wisconsin over pollution emissions from five of its state-run coal plants used to provide heat and power to four state-run university buildings and one hospital. The plants include those that function at UW-Eau Claire, UW-La Crosse, UW-Oshkosh, UW-River Falls and Mendota Mental Health Institute. The State's Department of Natural Resources sided with the Sierra Club, and now the state of Wisconsin has to decide on whether or not to install pollution-control equipment to greatly reduce emissions, or reduce the use of coal all together. As decision is to be made by spring 2010.[33]

The Sierra Club alleged that the millions of dollars in upgrades made at these facilities were significant and actually increased the potential for the plants to emit more pollution.[34]

Major coal mines

There are currently no coal mines in Wisconsin.

Citizen groups

Business groups


Coal lock-in

A 2013 report out of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, “How to Keep Wisconsin and the U.S. Competitive in a Changing Energy World,” argues that the state has "coal energy price lock-in" due to the "high capital costs and long assets life spans" of its coal plant investments. The authors predict that "the cost of coal for base load plants could increase 6 percent annually over the next ten years, continuing a long term rising trend that dates back to 2000."

Power plants and job numbers

A March 2011 report by the Ochs Center for Metropolitan Studies found that coal-fired power plants often do not reach predicted counts of construction and permanent jobs.

The Center analyzed the largest coal-powered plants that became operational between 2005 and 2009. At those six locations -- in Iowa, Texas, Nebraska, South Carolina and Wisconsin -- analyses of employment data and labor retention rates showed that only a plant in Iowa had an increase in construction employment that matched the expected level. The other state projects did not reach the numbers predicted.[35]



  1. 1.0 1.1 Existing Electric Generating Units in the United States, 2005, Energy Information Administration, accessed April 2008.
  2. Estimated Emissions for U.S. Electric Power Industry by State, 1990-2006, Energy Information Administration, 2007.
  3. Wisconsin Energy Consumption Information, eRedux website, accessed June 2008.
  4. Coal Production and Number of Mines by State, County, and Mine Type, Energy Information Administration, accessed June 2008.
  5. "Our Insatiable Appetite for Coal", Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Feb. 10, 2007.
  6. "Air quality watch issued for Wisconsin," The Reporter, February 8, 2009.
  7. "Doyle: No coal at UW by 2012," Badger Herald, February 8, 2009.
  8. 8.0 8.1 "6 Hurt in Explosion at Oak Creek We Energies Plant," MSNBC, February 4, 2009.
  9. Oak Creek Units 1 & 2
  10. "Stopping the Coal Rush", Sierra Club, accessed December 2007. (This is a Sierra Club list of new coal plant proposals.)
  11. "Oak Creek coal plant settlement uncertain," Journal Sentinel, November 27, 2009.
  12. 12.0 12.1 12.2 "Shock Doctrine, U.S.A." NY Times, Feb. 24, 2011.
  13. Eric Lipton, "Billionaire Brothers’ Money Plays Role in Wisconsin Dispute", New York Times, February 21, 2011.
  14. [Koch Industries, Inc., "Wisconsin Facts", http://www.kochind.com/factssheets/WisconsinFacts.aspx], Koch Industries website, accessed August 2011.
  15. http://www.scribd.com/doc/49513260/OpWisconsin
  16. http://www.npr.org/2011/02/25/134040226/in-wis-union-battle-focus-on-billionaire-brothers
  17. https://www.nytimes.com/2011/02/22/us/22koch.html?_r=1
  18. http://www.rawstory.com/rs/2011/02/27/anonymous-targets-the-brothers-koch-claiming-attempts-to-usurp-american-democracy/
  19. http://www.care2.com/causes/politics/blog/anonymous-joins-madison-protests-takes-down-koch-bros-website/
  20. "Anonymous Attacks Koch Brothers to Support Wisconsin Protests" Gawker, Feb. 27, 2011.
  21. Emily Osborne, [https://www.prwatch.org/news/2012/02/11269/alec-accountability-act-introduced-wisconsin "'ALEC Accountability Act' Introduced in Wisconsin," PR Watch, February 10, 2012.
  22. Environmental Integrity Project, "Dirty Kilowatts: America’s Most Polluting Power Plants", July 2007.
  23. "Study of coal ash sites finds extensive water contamination" Renee Schoff, Miami Herald, August 26, 2010.
  24. "Enviro groups: ND, SD coal ash polluting water" Associated Press, August 24, 2010.
  25. "Officials study effects of Lake Michigan ash spill" Dinesh Ramde, Associated Press, November 2, 2011.
  26. "Sierra Club plans to sue We Energies over Oak Creek bluff collapse" JSOnline, MSNBC.com, November 9, 2011.
  27. 27.0 27.1 27.2 "EPA’s Blind Spot: Hexavalent Chromium in Coal Ash" Earthjustice & Sierra Club, February 1, 2011.
  28. "Damage Case Report for Coal Compustion Wastes," August 2008
  29. U.S. EPA Proposed Coal Ash Rule, 75 Fed. Reg. 35128
  30. EarthJustice, Environmental Integrity Project, and Sierra Club, "In Harm's Way: Lack of Federal Coal Ash Regulations Endangers Americans and their Environment," August 2010
  31. EarthJustice and Environmental Integrity Project, "Out of Control: Mounting Damages from Coal Ash Waste Sites," May 2010
  32. "Coal ash waste tied to cancer-causing chemicals in water supplies" Alicia Bayer, Examiner.com, February 1, 2011.
  33. "Dpt. of Good Ideas: Wisconsin May Shut Down Five Coal Plants," Treehugger.com, February 22, 2010.
  34. "State may shut down five coal-fired power plants," Dee J Hall, Wisconsin State Journal, February 19, 2010.
  35. "Study questions coal-fired power plant job counts" Associated Press, March 31, 2011.


Existing coal plants in Wisconsin

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