Alliant Energy is planning to retire its last coal-burning power plant in the next five years. Columbia County and the town of Pacific both receive state aid in the form of shared revenue of utility taxes.
When town clerk Marlo Gustafson heard the news her thoughts went straight to Pacific taxpayers.
“I thought, ‘Oh my gosh, our taxes are going to go up,” Gustafson said.
Gustafson said the state estimated the town will receive over $785,000 in shared revenue for 2021. Columbia County officials are estimating a loss of about $1.7 million annually from closure of the power plant.
“That is just an estimation,” Gustafson said of the Pacific number. “We get these estimates every year, sometimes we receive a little more, sometimes a little less. But the estimation is a good ballpark figure.”
Town Chairman Bill Devine was disappointed when he heard about the plant closing.
“I was very disappointed because the discussions I had been involved in were talking about closing the plant in 2050,” Devine said. “I was not expecting that when I read it in the paper.”
Alliant said closure of Columbia Energy Center is part of the company’s goal to be carbon neutral by 2050. The company plans to reduce carbon dioxide emissions company-wide by 2030 and eliminating all coal by 2040 as part of Alliant’s Clean Energy Vision.
Devine said he has been involved in many conversations about decommissioning the plant.
“In Wisconsin there is no cookie-cutter decommission process. The dates they’ve given are tentative and right now we, at the town, are trying to figure how the process will go and what the next steps are,” Devine said.
Devine has been meeting with Alliant as well as communicating with the Department of Revenue and the Wisconsin Public Service Commission to get answers on the shutdown process.
The first unit at the Columbia Energy Center is tentatively scheduled to be retired by 2023 and the second unit the following year.
Alliant has said the dates could be moved depending on local, state or federal regulations.
Columbia County comptroller Lois Schepp said she has been in discussions with state officials and there have been discussions on tapering the payments down over 10 years instead of the state statute which says shared revenue funding will decrease over 5 years with a 20% decrease every year the plant is not open.
If the five-year plan is approved, the town of Pacific would receive around $785,000 the first year the plant is closed and then will receive 80% of that figure the following year, roughly $628,000. The town will then receive 60% the third year and then by year six the town would receive no shared revenue.
“That is what these conversations over the last few months have been about,” Devine said. “Since each power plant is different it is unclear if it will be five or ten years.”
Columbia County officials have been upset with the lack of information from Alliant on what will happen at the current site. Columbia County Chair told the Board of Supervisors in May that Alliant has not been forthcoming with plans for the 3,000-acre site in Pacific.
Cindy Tomlinson, of Alliant Energy said, “Prior to our announcement in February 2021, we had met with officials from the town of Pacific, city of Portage and Columbia County about accelerating the retirement of the Columbia Energy Center. These conversations began last summer, though we have been meeting with local officials for years, as part of our commitment to building stronger communities.”
Tomlinson said they are still in the first steps of planning and aren’t withholding information. She said Alliant has not released any plans because the company is still in the planning phase for decommissioning the Columbia Energy Center.
“Our conversations with local officials continue and our plans for what happens with the site and the facility are yet to be determined. In fact, conversations are just getting underway as to what we might do with both the site and the facility – and we’ll be talking with local officials and community members to get their insights as we work through the process,” Tomlinson said in an email.
“For all these issues we are seeing, we are working on finding out the details for the future of the plant site,” Devine said.