In the short term, a three-year, $627 million construction project at the Columbia Energy Center near Portage is expected to bring as many as 500 construction jobs to the area.

In the long term, the project is designed to lessen, by 90 percent, the amount of mercury that the power plant's two coal-fired units emit into the atmosphere, as well as reduce sulfur dioxide emissions.

The Public Service Commission of Wisconsin on Thursday approved the construction of an emissions control system at the Columbia plant, located in the town of Pacific outside of Portage. The plant - whose two units generate a total of 1,023 megawatts of electricity - recently was cited in a report from the environmental group Wisconsin Environment as spewing more mercury than any other coal-burning power plant in Wisconsin. The report said that, by the power plant's self-reported figures, it emitted 627 pounds of mercury in 2009, though Alliant Energy figures showed that, in 2010, the plant's mercury emissions had been lowered to 482 pounds.

The project was in the works long before the Wisconsin Environment report, titled "Dirty Energy's Assault on our Health: Mercury," was released earlier this month.

The three-member PSC's approval Thursday means that the project can begin soon, though a construction date has not been set, said Alliant Energy Spokesman Scott Reigstad.

However, because the state has set a January 2015 deadline for the plant to reduce its mercury emissions by 90 percent, the work will have to start soon because it will take about 36 months to complete, he said.

This would be, by far, the largest project of its kind in Wisconsin, he said, dwarfing a similar project now going on near Sheboygan, valued at about $150 million.

About 500 construction workers probably will come into the Portage area for the project, Reigstad said.

"It should be a great economic development boom for the Portage area," he said. "These are people who will shop in Portage stores and eat in Portage restaurants."

When the work starts, Reigstad said, there is likely to be an abundance of steel and other building materials coming in to the area near the plant, by truck and by rail.

The project, basically, consists of an activated carbon injection system, in which exhaust coming from the plant would be injected with carbon particles, then channeled into a baghouse, where it would be collected in a series of cloth bags. In the bags, the carbon would absorb the mercury before the exhaust is released into the atmosphere.

When the project is completed, there will be a new structure at the power plant, but outward changes in the plant's appearance are not likely to be noticeable to people casually driving by the plant on Highway 51, Reigstad said.

The sulfur dioxide control system was proposed to go in at the same time.

The Citizens Utility Board had asked that the PSC approve only the mercury control system, because new federal standards governing sulfur dioxide emissions are expected soon. But all three PSC members voted to approve both systems together, because separating them might add to the cost.

Reigstad said the three entities that own the Columbia plant are splitting the cost, with Alliant paying about $290 million, Wisconsin Public Service paying $197 million and Madison Gas and Electric paying $140 million.

The Wisconsin State Journal contributed to this story.




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Stan B
Stan B

Glad to see they are doing something about the pollution.
However - to little, to late.
This project is like comparable to putting a new $500 exhaust system
on a 20 year old vehicle with 200,000 miles.


I agree that their is too much pollution from these plants, but i would love to see peoples reactions if they had their electricity shut off for even a couple of hours. I bet they wouldn't be complaining about mercury then.:)

Bill Irwin
Bill Irwin

Mercury is hardly the only issue with this plant, Why doesn't someone talk about the 3 unlined ponds (50, 30 and 10 acres) where the ash is stored. Yes, unlined ponds where 2 miles downstream, EVERYTHING is dead. This toxic brew is absorbed into the soil, making its' way into the groundwater. Alliant won't talk about that, they don't want you to know about it. Oh, and who is one of the main suppliers of the coal for WI power plants? The Koch Brothers! And who is crying for less EPA regulations? The Republicans and their bosses, THE KOCH BROTHERS!
Money out of politics, that is the only way things will change.

Bill Irwin
Bill Irwin

Solar power, wind power, fusion (in the future, and would be the near future if we actually spent enough to create the technology needed) are the power sources we need to develop. Even Shell Oil has stated that we have reached our peak oil (get ready for $5 /gallon). I am installing solar panels for my house next month, they will create enough power for my needs and enough extra to sell to PG


Is that going to end the brown streak in the sky that emanates from the stacks? It shows up real nice if you're wearing polarized sunglasses and are 5-10 miles away.


[quote]Stan B said: "Glad to see they are doing something about the pollution.However - to little, to late.This project is like comparable to putting a new $500 exhaust systemon a 20 year old vehicle with 200,000 miles."[/quote]

Yeah, like straight pipes and glass packs on a '77 Nova.


I was thinking... as to the previous comments... a 70's vintage power generating plant could have a new engine (nuclear) put in and during this installation time-frame, the coal dust problem (something I had totally forgotten about) could be 'taken care of' But then again, that might make too much sense?

Bill Irwin
Bill Irwin

To build a Nuke they would probably have to tear down the whole plant (turbines are the only common element), which I think would definitely be the best thing. When Indiana tried to pour 12 gallons of Mercury in Lake Michigan, other states went nuts, but when a power plant in WI is dumping 650 pounds in the air, no problem... well until they admit it.
We need to focus on renewable energy sources until fusion is commonplace, oil, gas, and coal are things of the past.