Utilities criticize mercury plan
Proposal to reduce emissions would drive up rates, officials
By LEE HAWKINS JR.
Article courtesy of the Milwaukee
Sept. 5 2001
A state proposal to require that utilities reduce mercury
emissions from coal-burning power plants would drive up
electric rates 25%, a spokesman for a Green Bay-based
The proposed rule would cut mercury emissions 90% over
15 years. Utilities would submit compliance plans to cut
mercury emissions 30% after five years and 50% after 10
years. The proposal will be discussed at a series of public
meetings that will begin today in Eau Claire and continue
through the end of the month.
Ed Newman, environmental director of Wisconsin Public
Service Corp., said the utility wants to negotiate a more
attainable goal of 10% over five years and 40% over 10
years. The alternative - to shutter up to 13 Wisconsin
coal plants in favor of more environmentally friendly
natural gas plants - would be an expensive proposition
for utilities, Newman said.
"The natural gas plants are much more expensive," Newman
said. "It's like investing in the stock market - you don't
want to have all your eggs in one basket. We'd be vulnerable
to the price volatility of natural gas and could be put
in a position very similar to that of California. We'd
like to maintain the option of having a diverse fuel mix."
Chris Schoenherr, a spokesman for Alliant Energy Corp.
in Madison, estimated that reducing mercury emissions
30% would cost the utility $35 million to $47 million
and an additional $15 million to $29 million in increased
operating and maintenance costs.
"There are a number of aspects of the rule that are troubling,"
said Kristine Krause, vice president-environmental for
Wisconsin Energy Corp. "We certainly agree with WPS that
the rule as proposed will cause significant rate increases."
But Keith Reopelle, executive director of Wisconsin's
Environmental Decade, a Madison-based environmental advocacy
group, said the utilities' cost estimates were inflated.
"There is no reason why utilities would need to close
down any coal plants," Reopelle said. "The rules were
written with the intention that they would comply by installing
control technologies on existing plants, not building
In Wisconsin, 53% of all electricity is supplied by coal
In addition to the rate increases, the utilities also
fear that mercury reduction technologies aren't advanced
enough to reach the 15-year, 90% goal.
"That's true," Reopelle said, "because there isn't a
market and there never will be until there is a requirement
to do that.
"These kinds of technologies are never commercially available
until there's a market for it. Why would there be? If
there is no market, why would they build them?"
Appeared in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel on Sept.