From an article by Tom Content in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:
As a new administration prepares to take office in Madison, with a different attitude toward renewable energy than the Doyle administration, We Energies is pressing forward with plans to build a wood-burning power plant in north-central Wisconsin.
The state Public Service Commission will hold a hearing on the project this week, with a decision expected early in 2011.
Concerns about greenhouse gas emissions, the cost of the project and even competition for biomass are all being reviewed as the proposal makes its way through the state approval process.
We Energies is optimistic, as it has won all the local approvals it needs from officials for the Village of Rothschild and the Village of Weston, utility spokesman Brian Manthey said.
“We believe we’ve answered every question that has come up, and we are pleased that we’ve gotten unanimous support from the municipal boards for the project,” he said. “We’ll continue to supply the information needed to move the project forward at the state level.”
The $255 million project at the Domtar Corp. paper mill in Rothschild, south of Wausau, would generate 50 megawatts of electricity, enough to power about 40,000 typical homes. It also would provide steam for the Domtar mill. . . .
The $255 million cost of the Domtar project is also raising concerns.
An analysis by auditors at the PSC found that building a wind farm would be less expensive for customers than building this project. The commission suggested that We Energies explore the possibility of burning wood in conjunction with coal at some of its existing coal-fired power plants, such as its older coal plant in Oak Creek.
An estimate by the customer group Citizens’ Utility Board found the plant would be twice as expensive as a similar-sized wind farm, executive director Charlie Higley said.
While the cost may be higher, We Energies said the utility wants to diversify its renewable energy sources beyond wind. And unlike wind and solar projects, biomass power plants have the added benefit of being able to run round the clock.
In addition, Allan Mihm, We Energies director of generation projects, said the project is more efficient because it’s supplying electricity and steam. It would cost the utility $20 million more to build a power plant separate from the paper mill, he said.