The Columbia Energy Center flipped the switch Wednesday on a $92 million project to remove nitrogen oxide emissions from one of its two plants outside Portage.
Alliant Energy, with minority co-owners Wisconsin Public Service and Madison Gas and Electric, hosted area dignitaries for a ribbon-cutting for its now-operational selective catalytic reduction facility.
“We’ve invested hundreds of millions of dollars in this Columbia Energy Center,” said Alliant Project Manager Tim Kreft. “Some of you remember four years ago, we had the ribbon-cutting on the storage bag house project to collect sulfur dioxide and particulate matter. We’ve also invested about $137 million on efficiency projects to increase the efficiency of the units to get the greatest number of megawatts for the same amount of coal.”
The Columbia Energy Center comprises two units, the first brought online in 1975, and the second in 1978. Together, they produce about 120 megawatts of electricity distributed to 1 million homes in the region. Kreft said the project was completed on time and under budget.
“The piece that we installed in Unit 2 has the capability to remove nitrogen oxide up to 90 percent, so we’re putting it in the 50 to 90 percent. So that is great news for the environment and our customers,” he said.
As part of the process, ammonia is stored in tanks and then combined with flue gas, then processed with a catalyst to create nitrogen gas and water.
“I do appreciate the partnership with Alliant Energy,” Portage Mayor Rick Dodd said. “They provide a great service that most of us don’t think about, because all we care about is that when we flip the switch, the lights come on. And when they don’t, we get on the phone and complain about it, so it is like a lot of government.”
Dodd said when the facility was built, there was not a lot of enthusiasm for the project among residents. However, he said people have gotten used to it and even benefited from use of the plant’s cooling pond, which does not freeze over in winter, making it a year-round destination for kayakers who also enjoy the area wildlife that populate the surrounding area.
“We in the city and the area have been known as a plastic cluster for manufacturing, injection molding and stuff, and that takes a lot of electricity to do that stuff,” Dodd said. “You don’t see these contaminants that they are removing, but it is a good thing they are removing them, because I do believe in global warming and believe that we should be cleaning the air and I worry about it for my grandkids and my grandkids’ grandkids.”
Although the new equipment does not reduce carbon dioxide emissions, which contribute to global warming, the removal of nitrogen oxide reduces the amount of ozone — or smog — that develops in the air, resulting in health hazards like increases in asthma and other respiratory conditions, particularly among children.
“The $92 million investment here shows our commitment to delivering cleaner energy for Wisconsin and also shows our commitment to operating this facility for years to come,” said David de Leon, Alliant’s vice president for operations in Wisconsin. “For about two years, this project has had a positive impact on the local economy. It has been two years of construction, but it has been about four years from planning all the way through construction. It has been in the works for quite some time.”