For decades, steam billowing from the twin cooling towers of We Energies’ coal-fired power plant in Pleasant Prairie has been a familiar landmark for motorists driving along I-94 near in Kenosha County.
Milwaukee-based WEC Energy Group announced it was closing the plant permanently in the second quarter of 2018 as the company moves to cheaper natural gas and other energy sources.
The decision is the latest sign of coal’s diminishing status as a source of electric generation as utilities turn to natural gas, surplus wholesale power and renewable sources such as wind and solar.
Pleasant Prairie has been operating at reduced capacity at times in recent years, underscoring its excess plant capacity and the cheaper energy options available to the company. Pleasant Prairie did not operate for three months this spring, the company said.
The plant’s closing also means less air pollution and a smaller carbon footprint for state’s largest utility holding company and should help southeastern Wisconsin address longstanding ozone air emission problems.
The power plant employs 158 people and the company said it will try to keep many of the employees by redeploying them to other facilities.
Environmental groups applauded the news of the shift away from coal.
In a related development, the company said it has plans to own and develop 350 megawatts of solar power by 2020 when it teams up with a partner not yet identified. A site for the project also has not yet been identified.
The utility’s plans for solar would make it the largest renewable project in the state. The next largest project, generating 100 megawatts, is planned next to the Point Beach nuclear power plant near Two Rivers.
The move into solar is a recognition of falling prices and technological improvements.