Alliant Energy Announces Plan to Go Carbon-Neutral by 2050
by Dyami Rodriguez, age 15
Alliant Energy plans on reaching net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, making it the largest solar energy generator in Wisconsin to make such a pledge. This has become a growing trend among other utility groups, with the goal to eliminate all coal-powered generators in the near future.
The plan to have “net-zero carbon dioxide emissions” does not mean there will not be any carbon emissions, but rather that any carbon emitted will be counteracted or reused by carbon credits or capture methods. Yet, this plan will only apply towards electricity generation, as heating will still be distributed through natural gas. In fact, natural gas generators will be used to replace coal-fired generators.
In order to meet these goals, Alliant Energy will transition from traditional practices and focus more on using renewable energy. This will be accomplished by using at least 1,000 megawatts from solar plants in Wisconsin by 2023. Alliant has also proposed a $900 million investment in six solar farms across the state, adding an additional 675 megawatts to the utility supply bank. This plan also includes 1,000 megawatts of wind energy in Iowa. By adding these renewable energy sources, Alliant hopes to be able to close one of its two remaining coal plants in Wisconsin.
A major driver of the push towards renewable energy and reducing carbon emissions for utility groups is climate change. Yet, in an interview with the Wisconsin State Journal, Jim Gallegos, Alliant executive vice president and general counsel, said climate change is not their only motivation. “The primary driver is focused on our customers and communities and setting them up [...] to be competitive,” Gallegos said. “We do think renewables are going to do it better than fossil fuels.”
Alliant’s plan will help save customers between $2 billion and $6.5 billion over the next 35 years. According to chairman and CEO John Larsen, this will allow Alliant to “serve customers and build stronger communities.”
The company needs new tools to make it all happen, like battery storage and carbon-free fuels such as hydrogen, according to Jeff Hanson, director of sustainability at Alliant Energy. Hanson says these newer tools would help speed up Alliant’s transition to net-zero carbon emissions. In fact, they already have taken steps in that direction: in May, the company announced that the 400-megawatt Edgewater Plant in Sheboygan would close by the end of 2022.
Alliant is the 15th U.S. investor-owned utility to set up a goal of net-zero carbon emissions, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council. Other “net-zero” utilities include Xcel Energy in Minnesota and Madison Gas and Electric in Wisconsin. Other utilities in Wisconsin, like We Energies and Wisconsin Public Service Corporation, plan on eliminating 80 percent of carbon emissions but will continue burning coal through 2050.
Environmental watchdog groups are closely monitoring Alliant's plans. Tom Content, executive director of the Citizens Utility Board, wants to see increased transparency about the plan and more energy efficiency. Content also wants to make sure customers will not be paying for unneeded coal plants and new renewable energy sources at the same time.
The Sierra Club, another environmental advocacy group, is advocating for Aliant to also close down their Columbia plant by 2026. The Columbia Energy Center near Portage is a 1,100-megawatt plant, which has received over $1 billion worth of pollution-control upgrades in the past decade. A Sierra Club study found that by closing both plants, Alliant would be nearly halfway to their emissions goal and would save customers over $250 million in 10 years. “Retiring Edgewater was a really good decision. Investing in 1,000 megawatts of new solar is game-changing for Wisconsin,” says Elizabeth Katt Reinders, regional campaign director for the Sierra Club. “In the same breath we can say this emissions reduction goal is unambitious. Our analysis has shown they can do far more far sooner.”
Several states, such as California, New York, and Washington, have passed laws that require utilities in their state to deliver electricity from carbon-free or renewable resources. Here in Wisconsin, Governor Tony Evers has also declared a nonbinding executive order for all electricity in Wisconsin to come from carbon-free sources by 2050. Alliant Energy is one of the small but growing groups of utilities also joining this pledge for a cleaner future.
[Sources: Wisconsin State Journal; WPR]