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Friday, January 21, 2011

Walker rejects biomass boiler for power plant

From an article by in The Chippewa Herald:

Gov. Scott Walker scrapped plans Thursday to convert a power plant to run on natural fuels such as wood chips and paper pellets, a move that could save up to $100 million but drew stern criticism from at least one environmental group.

The decision affects the Charter Street Heating Plant on the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus. Its coal-fired burners will be retired next year and were to be replaced with two boilers that run on natural gas and a third that would burn biomass, state officials said.

However, Department of Administration Secretary Mike Huebsch said only the natural-gas burners will be installed.

"We have decided not to proceed with the biomass boiler in order to save the state taxpayers money," he said in a statement. The savings would come from avoiding construction costs of about $100 million, he said. It was not clear whether the third planned boiler would be replaced or the two natural gas boilers would produce enough power on their own.

Jeff Plale, an administrator for the state Division of State Facilities, said Walker and Huebsch realized there were cheaper ways to meet the university's heating needs while still being environmentally friendly.

"Natural gas is a clean source of energy, certainly cleaner than coal," Plale said. "That plant is going to be a whole lot cleaner than it is today. Couple that with being able to save $100 million during a very difficult budget and I think the people of Wisconsin come out better."

In 2008, then-Gov. Jim Doyle announced that the plant would switch from coal to biomass in part to settle a Sierra Club lawsuit claiming that the plant violated air-pollution laws. Thursday's move does not risk reopening the lawsuit because the plant is still moving away from coal.

The decision to walk away from biomass shows a lack of long-term thinking, Sierra Club spokeswoman Jennifer Feyerherm said. She called it another in a string of Walker's actions that kills jobs and wastes money while missing a chance to develop greener solutions.

"This was a way to keep money local, to keep the investment in Wisconsin," she said. "While up front it may seem to cost more, it would have kept the money local, created a green infrastructure and created local jobs."

She said the jobs would include growing and harvesting the biomass, converting it into a form that could burned and transporting it to the plant.

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