Wisconsin PSC staff signs off on environmental impacts of Riverside expansion

The staff at the Public Service Commission of Wisconsin on Oct. 6 issued a finding of no significant impact related to the environmental aspects of Wisconsin Power & Light‘s planned 650-MW addition to its Riverside Energy Center.

The commission is reviewing an application for approval of this project, with this staff finding being a major step in that process. This would be a natural gas-fueled facility with a nameplate capacity of approximately 650 MW, to be known as the Riverside Energy Center Expansion (RECE), located in the town of Beloit, Rock County. The project has a total estimated cost of $750 million. It would be located at one of two site alternatives on either side of the existing Riverside Energy Center (REC).

WP&L proposes to build and operate two combustion turbines (CT) sending hot gases into two heat recovery steam generators (HRSG) with the resulting steam sent through one steam turbine generator to produce electricity. The natural gas would be delivered by an existing WP&L lateral line from an interstate natural gas pipeline, and the electricity would be delivered through a short connection to the existing local 138 kV transmission system.

After generating electricity, the steam would be cooled and condensed over several cycles of repetition by a circulating water system, which in turn would be cooled with a new cooling tower. WP&L would be responsible for the construction, commissioning, start-up, operation, and maintenance of the new plant.

In addition, WP&L would build and integrate a new 2-MW solar energy facility to produce electricity that would be mainly used internally within the Riverside plant. The solar array would also provide data and experience for a study with the Electric Power Research Institute to optimize the operational and integrative configuration of a utility-scale solar facility in southeastern Wisconsin.

The two combined-cycle plant site alternatives under consideration are called the West Site and the East Site. Both are on WP&L-owned property. The West Site is about 90 acres of farmland across a rail line to the west of the existing Riverside plant. The East Site is about 137 acres, some of which is currently covered by the existing but retired Units 1 and 2 of the original Rock River Generating Station (RRGS). It lies east of the existing Riverside plant and closer to the Rock River.

The existing RRGS Units 1 and 2 are scheduled to be demolished in an independent action by the utility, the report noted.

Wisconsin Electric Power has provided an alternative in this case

Public input and comment to date has been predominantly aimed at support for the project. There is a competing power purchase proposal from Wisconsin Electric Power Co. (WEPCO), the report added. Earlier comment about potential impact was collected by WP&L during its public meetings but did not come to the commission in response to its solicitation for comments at the beginning of preparation of this environmental assessment (EA). The only comment about potential impact came from residents of Edgewater Estates, who have now organized to intervene and participate in the Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity hearing in November. These comments focused mainly on potential for fog, noise impacts, and property value impacts.

Said the staff report: “No significant environmental effects would be expected to result from the proposed project at either site alternative, the West Site or the East Site. There would probably be noticeable construction traffic along Town Line Road west of the Rock River, consisting of workers’ vehicles, and moving construction equipment and power plant components. Air and water impacts would be controlled by [Department of Natural Resources] permit. Fog and noise would be as stated in the EA, and some impact could be expected by neighbors. No significant environmental effects on the quality of the human environment that would warrant the preparation of an [environmental impact statement] are expected to result from the proposed project with all permits in place and impact mitigation techniques as described in the application materials and this EA. Thus, preparation of an EIS, as described in [Wisconsin statute], is not required for this project.”

WEPCO officials told the Wisconsin PSC in Sept. 22 testimony in this case that they have been able to price the sale of power to WP&L for six years at a discount to what it would cost if WP&L were to build the 650-MW Riverside expansion project.

Jeff Knitter, Manager of Planning in the Wholesale Energy and Fuels department of Wisconsin Electric Power, said in Sept. 22 testimony that he can confirm that Wisconsin Electric has sufficient capacity available to cover its future load and required reserves after selling capacity to WP&L through proposed Power Purchase Agreements (PPAs).

Under a commission order in the Wisconsin Energy/Integrys acquisition proceeding, Wisconsin Electric completed an Integrated Resource Plan (IRP) that looks at the combined capacity position of Wisconsin Electric and Wisconsin Public Service (WPS). That IRP shows that the combined utilities (Wisconsin Electric and WPS) have sufficient capacity to sell to WP&L, Knitter wrote.

He added: “Our approach tried to answer this question: If WPL delays building Riverside what do WPL’s customers gain and what do they give up? The principal benefit for WPL’s customers from a delay in construction of Riverside is that they avoid for six years the cost associated with a $750 million new power plant. On a present value basis, everything else being equal, being able to push costs into the future saves customers money.”

About Barry Cassell 20414 Articles
Barry Cassell is Chief Analyst for GenerationHub covering coal and emission controls issues, projects and policy. He has covered the coal and power generation industry for more than 24 years, beginning in November 2011 at GenerationHub and prior to that as editor of SNL Energy’s Coal Report. He was formerly with Coal Outlook for 15 years as the publication’s editor and contributing writer, and prior to that he was editor of Coal & Synfuels Technology and associate editor of The Energy Report. He has a bachelor’s degree from Central Michigan University.