Wisconsin utilities delay coal plant closures due to blackout risks. Xcel Energy should follow suit with Sherco

Electric companies in Wisconsin have announced they will delay the closure of three coal plants in the Badger State due to a shortage of reliable power plant capacity on the regional electric grid, the Midcontinent Independent Systems Operator (MISO). The shortage of capacity is increasing the risk of rolling blackouts rolling blackouts this summer.

This is good news because the region’s coal plants are absolutely necessary for maintaining grid reliability.

The importance of these coal plants is why Xcel Energy should follow Wisconsin’s lead by keeping its Sherburne County (Sherco) Units 1 and 2, two coal units with a combined capacity of 1,360 megawatts (MW), open past their current 2023 and 2026 retirement dates.

On, Wisconsin!

Wisconsin Public Radio reports that Alliant Energy had previously announced it would shut down its 400-megawatt Edgewater coal plant in Sheboygan by 2023 and its 1,100-megawatt coal plant in Columbia County by 2025. Now, the utility said Edgewater will continue to operate until mid-2025 while Columbia is now slated to retire by mid-2026.

We Energies announced Thursday that will delay the closure of its coal-fired units at the South Oak Creek coal plant in Milwaukee County by a year. Two units will now retire two by May 2024 and the last two units by late 2025.

Save Our Sherco

MISO currently has a capacity shortfall of 1,200 MW, which is roughly the amount of power plant capacity needed to power half the homes in Minnesota on an average hour. Next year, however, the shortfall is projected to grow to 2,600 MW.

Unfortunately, Xcel Energy will be contributing to this growing capacity shortfall if it follows through with its planned retirement of Sherco 2, which measures 680 MW, next year.

The good news is that extending the life of Sherco 2 would be easy because the original retirement date of the plant was not until the 2030s. This means there is plenty of life left on the plant to help stem the rising risk of rolling blackouts.

It is unclear, however, if Xcel will attempt to keep the plant open.

Where do we go from here?

We are in a reliability hole, and the first thing we need to do is stop digging.

State lawmakers need to make reliability the top priority for our electric system. This means MInnesota should keep all of its existing coal, natural gas, and nuclear power plants online for the foreseeable future.

We should also do common-sense things that will shore up grid reliability while also allowing for the cleaner operation of our power plants. This includes allowing coal plants to install pollution control equipment and legalizing the construction of new nuclear power plants, which can provide reliable and emissions-free electricity at every hour of the day.

Wisconsin companies appear to understand that reliability comes first. Hopefully Xcel Energy will follow suit.