Last updated on November 4th, 2021 at 12:17 pm
Milwaukee-based WEC Energy Group plans to eliminate coal as an energy source by 2035, a dramatic drop from the 36% of electricity that came from coal in 2020.
To help make that happen, the company is increasing its capital investment in renewables by $1.3 billion in its latest 5-year capital plan. The 2022 to 2026 plan calls for $5.4 billion to be spent on renewables, up from $4.1 billion in the 2021 to 2025 version.
The latest plan also increases spending on grid and fleet reliability by $500 million to $6.8 billion.
In total, the 5-year plan increases capital spending $1.6 billion, with the company’s Wisconsin generation accounting for more than the total increase.
WEC had already announced two planned coal plant retirements, including 1,100 megawatts of capacity at the Oak Creek Power Plant and another 300 MW of capacity at a plant in Columbia.
With those plans announced, the company was targeting to have just 8% of power come from coal in 2030. The new plans call for coal to supply less than 5% of power by the end of 2030. In 2005, around 73% of the company’s power came from coal.
Reaching those targets will require switching existing coal plants, like the Elm Road Generating Station in Oak Creek, to natural gas.
Gale Klappa, executive chairman of WEC Energy Group, said the company is confident it can adjust its operations to reach a point where coal is only a backup fuel source in Oak Creek.
WEC has already dramatically remade where its electricity comes from in recent years, closing a plant in Pleasant Prairie and converting others to natural gas. The company has also announced $1.37 billion worth of investment into solar and battery storage projects in Wisconsin to replace the plants it plans to retire.
One of the challenges in shifting to solar power is the reliability of the system. Where firing up a coal plant is at the discretion of the company, generating power from the sun is less controllable. WEC executives have said the capability of solar lines up with peak demand on hot summer days, there are issues matching demand as it ramps up in the morning or in the evenings when people return home.
That’s where battery storage enters the picture, saving excess power generated by solar and deploying it to the grid as needed.
WEC will have to invest in additional solar and battery storage to meet its coal targets. Scott Lauber, chief operating officer of the company, said plans call for another 700 MW of solar and 500 MW of battery storage that are yet to be announced. Klappa noted the possibility of deploying additional battery storage at existing power generation sites.
The plans do not call for any additional wind generation.