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Wis. utility to idle coal plant during spring, fall shoulder seasons

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Wis. utility to idle coal plant during spring, fall shoulder seasons

Starting in March, We Energies plans to implement an "economic reserve" strategy at its 1,190-MW Pleasant Prairie coal plant in Kenosha County, Wis., idling the baseload facility for half the year to save money in a time of flat load growth and low natural gas prices, a company spokeswoman said Jan. 23.

A subsidiary of WEC Energy Group Inc., We Energies, known legally as Wisconsin Electric Power Co., will shutter Pleasant Prairie in March, April and May, and again in September, October and November, running the plant only during typically heavier load periods, spokeswoman Cathy Schulze said in an interview.

"It's a test," she said about the upcoming cycling. "2017 would be a test year to see what the logistical challenges would be and see what savings might be realized."

Schulze added, "It would place this plant in economic reserve during the 'shoulder' months. The plant's resources would be assigned to support work at other power plants, which would lessen the need for contract workers at those plants."

As currently envisioned, Pleasant Prairie, one of the largest coal plants in Wisconsin, would resume commercial operation this summer, before closing again in early fall and starting back up in December for the winter of 2017/2018.

According to Schulze, the utility's load growth has remained flat and natural gas prices have remained low. "As a result, We Energies has imposed economic reserve at some of its power plants before since natural gas prices have fallen since 2012."

Plant's idling is predetermined length

What is different with Pleasant Prairie is the preset schedule for placing the plant on economic reserve. "In this case, we're predetermining a lengthier time period, which we haven't done in the past," she noted.

We Energies hopes to reap some savings from the strategy, including in fuel costs, although they have not yet been quantified.

The plant's two generating units went into commercial operation in 1980 and 1985, making Pleasant Prairie one of the younger coal plants in the region. The plant, about five miles west of Lake Michigan, was designed specifically to burn low-sulfur Western coal.

According to SNL Energy, an offering of S&P Global Market Intelligence, most of the plant's coal in 2016 came from Cloud Peak Energy Inc. unit Cordero Mining LLC's Cordero Rojo Mine in Campbell County, Wyo. Peabody Energy Corp.'s Caballo mine, also in Campbell County, Wyo., was also a sizable source of coal for the plant.

While regulatory approval is not needed for the move, Schulze said We Energies has made the Wisconsin Public Service Commission aware of its plans.

Small Michigan coal plant to be converted to gas

Meanwhile, TES Filer City, the operator of a 60-MW coal plant, TES Filer City Station, in Manistee County, Mich., plans a conversion to natural gas around 2020, which would boost the plant's output to 190 MW to 230 MW, Hank Hoffman, the plant manager, said Jan. 23.

Built in 1990, the cogeneration plant is co-owned by CMS Energy Corp., the parent company of Consumers Energy Co., and Tondu Corp., with two other minority owners.

Consumers buy the plant's output under an existing power purchase agreement that runs to 2025.

Bob Matyi is a contributing reporter to S&P Global Platts which, like S&P Global Market Intelligence, is owned by S&P Global Inc.