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Portage officials examine impact as Alliant Energy announces Columbia County plant closure
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Portage officials examine impact as Alliant Energy announces Columbia County plant closure

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Columbia Energy Center (copy) (copy)

Alliant Energy plans to retire the 1,100-megawatt Columbia Energy Center near Portage by the end of 2024, ending the utility's coal generation in Wisconsin. The plant is jointly owned with Madison Gas and Electric and Wisconsin Public Service Corp.

Alliant Energy officials announced Tuesday to about 110 employees at the Columbia Energy Center in Pacific that they plan to close the plant by 2025, ending its coal use in Wisconsin.

Site Director of Operations Matt Cole said the decision to close “was made carefully” and that the company has been working with employees to highlight opportunities for work in other Alliant facilities, similar companies or to transition to retirement.

“Our focus is really making sure we take care of employees and their families,” Cole said. “We really want to make sure we talk with them, set up interviews to identify what their areas of interest are, what their skill set is and then help them come up with a short-term or long-term plan for the future.”

The change was brought on in the reduction in price of renewable energy sources, said Wisconsin Vice President of Operations David de Leon. Alliant invested more than $100 million over the last decade updating the plant, which first came online in 1975.

Alliant puts $92M pollution abatement system in operation at Portage plant

There are two units operating at the Columbia Energy Center. Roughly 40% of its workers are near retirement age, de Leon said.

Cole said the company plans to maintain its partnership with nonprofit organizations and other groups, such as the Portage United Way, Fall River Fire Department and the Chandler Park Holiday Lights in Pardeeville, and is “committed to continuing to support the local community.”

Mayor Rick Dodd said there are still ongoing projects that will keep Alliant in the city. He acknowledged that the need for change was necessary, but that the loss of workers to the area may likely affect the city negatively for a period of time.

“I think it’s going to be an impact for us, because it is a good source of employment for people around here,” Dodd said. “Any time you take away that good working relationship with the people in the community, it suffers for a while.”

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Columbia power plant to close by 2025, ending coal-fired power in Portage

Some of the economic impact may be felt not only by the loss of residents who seek employment elsewhere, but by the everyday interactions of people coming and going through the city on their way to work, stopping for food or gas, Dodd said.

“I understand the rationale behind the closure, but no one is ever happy to lose 100 to 200 employees from the area,” Dodd said.

Steve Sobiek, director of Portage Business Planning and Development, said he was glad to see the company investing in a timeline that would benefit its employees.

“Certainly the jobs will go away, but the impact on workers will be greatly minimized,” Sobiek said, adding that he “applauds” Alliant for constructing a plan to help employees and looking toward the future use of the location.

The town of Pacific and Columbia County could be impacted by the loss of shared revenue. Once the plant is decommissioned, revenue sharing will cease and property taxes will be applied based on the assessed value of the property.

Sobiek said he has spoken to officials about future plans for the site. They are currently creating plans for the site that will first undergo a multi-step decommissioning process to be repurposed, Cole said.

There will also be continued economic development within the city by Alliant Energy. Sobiek said a substation being developed along Cemetery Road and “significant” upgrades to a facility along Hamilton Street are good examples of continued economic growth within the city as a result of work by the company.

“While the Columbia Energy Center will go away in four years, the actual footprint within the city, I would argue, is actually larger with Alliant,” Sobiek said. “That certainly will benefit everybody.”

Portage area views of the pandemic in 2020

Gov. Tony Evers ordered Wisconsinites to stay in their homes starting the week of March 25, 2020, to fend off the coronavirus outbreak that is ravaging populations worldwide. Businesses deemed non-essential closed and schools turned to virtual instruction. The following photo galleries reflect back on the changes that took place in Columbia County and the surrounding area last year.

Follow Bridget on Twitter @cookebridget or contact her at 608-745-3513.

“I think it’s going to be an impact for us, because it is a good source of employment for people around here.”

Portage Mayor Rick Dodd

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