Energy powers Wisconsin’s economy

    Wisconsin’s energy industry powers the state’s economy, both literally and in terms of future growth. Public and private companies exist throughout the state that represent conventional energy sources like fossil-fuel and fire power generation, gas and electric energy distribution. Recently, more companies dedicated to renewable energy sources like wind, solar, biofuels and hydropower have emerged.

    Among states, Wisconsin’s rankings for energy use and cost are right in the middle of the pack. Average won’t do, however, so companies that provide energy and maintain the state’s power grid have been actively making investments to improve service throughout the state and create and even more stable, diverse and cost-efficient system.

    Utilities invest in strong, diverse portfolios
    Wisconsin Public Service (WPS) is a subsidiary of Integrys Energy Group Inc., an investor-owned electric and natural gas utility based in Green Bay.  It serves about 441,000 electric customers and 319,000 natural gas customers in residential, agricultural, industrial, and commercial markets. It also provides electric power to wholesale customers.

    The company’s service area includes northeastern Wisconsin and an adjacent portion of the upper peninsula of Michigan.

    WPS is working to purchase the Fox Energy Center in Kaukauna. The facility is a 593-megawatt combined cycle natural gas-fueled power plant.

    “With natural gas supplies continuing to increase and with market prices stabilizing, we feel this is a very wise investment for our customers and shareholders,” WPS president Chuck Cloninger said.

    In 2008, the company added a state-of-the-art 500-megawatt fossil-fueled unit at its Weston site in Marathon County, which it owns with Dairyland Power.

    WPS is also doing a major environmental upgrade of one of its Weston units.

    “This is still a very reliable generator that has served us well,” Cloninger said. “And with this upgrade will continue to do so for decades.”

    WPS’ renewable energy portfolio continues to grow as well, with capacity to receive 99 megawatts from its Crane Creek Wind Farm and 9 megawatts from the Lincoln Wind Farm. The company is also expanding use of methane digesters on large farming operations, some smaller photovoltaic operations and electrical generation from landfill gas operations at local municipalities.

    Water power plays a role for WPS as well. The Wisconsin, Peshtigo and Menominee rivers serve as the fuel source for 15 of the company’s electric-hydro operations, according to Cloninger.

    Wisconsin Power and Light Co. (WPL) provides electric service to nearly 460,000 customers and natural gas service to about 180,000 customers in more than 600 communities across central and southern Wisconsin. A subsidiary of Madison-based energy holding company Alliant Energy Corp., WPL is also investing in its delivery future.
    In January, it closed on the purchase of Riverside Energy Center, LLC. Riverside was previously owned by Calpine Corp.

    “This purchase is the latest step in the execution of our strategy to balance our generation portfolio in order to manage costs for our customers while remaining flexible for the future,” said WPL president John Larse.
    The newly acquired facility, located in Beloit, is a 600 megawatt combined cycle natural gas-fired electric generating facility. It began operating in 2004 and WPL was a customer, purchasing approximately 500 megawatts of capacity from the facility.

    Southeast Wisconsin is also set to see major investment in its energy future. Wisconsin Energy Corp. plans to invest up to $3.5 billion through 2016 to modernize the company’s distribution networks for electricity and natural gas, meet changing environmental standards and add clean, renewable energy to its generation fleet.
    Based in Milwaukee, Wisconsin Energy serves more than 1.1 million electricity customers in Wisconsin and in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, and about 1.1 million natural gas customers in Wisconsin. The company’s principal utility is We Energies. Its other major subsidiary, We Power, designs, builds and owns electricity-generating plants.
    Wisconsin Energy has nearly $14 billion of assets and about 4,600 employees, according to the company.
    Building a better grid
    Investments also have been made to improve energy transmission in the state.
    “Electric system reliability is critical to keeping the lights on and businesses running,” said Anne Spaltholz, spokeswoman for American Transmission Co. (ATC), founded in 2001 as the first multi-state, transmission-only utility in the United States.
    ATC provides electric transmission service for the eastern half of Wisconsin, the upper peninsula of Michigan and portions of Illinois. It has more than 9,400 miles of high-voltage transmission lines and 519 substations that provide communities with access to local and regional energy sources. Its customers include electricity producers and electric distribution companies.
    ATC has spent $2 billion over the past 12 years upgrading the transmission grid to improve reliability, Spaltholz said.
    The investments have eased congestion on the system and provided access to lower cost sources of energy generation. This is not only good for the state’s infrastructure; it’s good for business.

    “Transmission connections to regional energy markets allow local utilities to fully participate in the market and take advantage of pricing benefits,” said Spaltholz. “When local utilities have access to the best energy prices, it puts downward pressure on the rates they charge their customers. And as electric rates can be a sizable portion of any business’s overall costs, transmission development has an economic benefit to businesses.”

    Sign up for BizTimes Daily Alerts

    Stay up-to-date on the people, companies and issues that impact business in Milwaukee and Southeast Wisconsin

    No posts to display