Alliant Energy announced planned investments in six solar projects that would make the utility the largest producer of solar power in the state.
The six projects would generate a total of 675 megawatts of electricity, or enough for about 175,000 homes a year.
The investments — projected to total $900 million — are part of its plan announced last year to generate 1,000 megawatts of electricity from solar power by 2023.
Alliant also plans to shut down its Edgewater Generating Station, a coal plant that can generate 414 megawatts of electricity, in Sheboygan by 2022.
The utility estimates that shutting down the coal plant and replacing it with solar power would save customers more than $2 billion over 35 years.
The projected savings would come from lower spending on operation and maintenance, investments in new equipment and fuel savings, said Jeff Ripp, director of regulatory strategy for Alliant.
Alliant also will ask state regulators to allow its investors to continue to earn a profit, or rate of return, on their remaining investment in the plant over roughly the next 20 years.
The Edgewater plant has a remaining book value of roughly $500 million. Roughly half of that money came from Alliant stockholders and the balance from bondholders.
The utility spent $230 million on pollution control equipment at the Edgewater plant as recently as 2016.
Alliant’s proposal would allow the utility’s investors to earn tens of millions of dollars on a shuttered power plant over the next two decades. At the same time, its investors would earn a return on Alliant’s investment in the new solar power projects.
Tom Content, executive director of the Citizens Utility Board, which represents residential and small business customers before the Public Service Commission, said the question facing regulators is how much customers should have to pay for a power plant that doesn’t generate electricity.
The same question was raised when We Energies shut down the Pleasant Prairie power plant.
The six solar power projects announced by Alliant area:
- 200 megawatts in Grant County.
- 150 megawatts in Sheboygan County.
- 150 megawatts in Wood County.
- 75 megawatts in Jefferson County.
- 50 megawatts in Rock County.
- 50 megawatts in Richland County.
Alliant will buy some of the solar projects from developers, said David de Leon, president of Alliant Energy’s Wisconsin energy company. For others, the utility will buy the rights and develop the projects itself.