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Wis. regulators grant approval for 700-MW Alliant gas plant

Wisconsinregulators have approved AlliantEnergy Corp.'s plan for a new 700-MW natural gas-firedcombined-cycle plant that will replace several coal-fired and aging naturalgas-fired plants that Alliant subsidiary utility isretiring.

ThePublic Service Commission of Wisconsin verbally approved theproject on March 31, noting an estimated cost of $700 million and an in-servicedate of early 2020, according to a statementfrom Madison, Wis.-headquartered Alliant.

As previously reportedwhen the utility applied for a certificate from the PSC last year, the newplant, an expansion at the site of the existing Riverside gas plant, will also include a 2-MWsolar installation to offset the new combined-cycle plant's power needs.The solar facility will cost about $5 million and when the new gas plant is notrunning, the power generated by the solar panels will offset the plant'sstandby electrical loads, according to Alliant spokesman Scott Reigstad.

Alliant expects to break ground this fall, and constructionwill ramp up in the spring of 2017. The new plant will replace about 640 MW ofcapacity from other plants that have already retired or will be retired by2020.

Alliant saidearlier this year that it had potential agreements with several state utilitiesand electric cooperatives for those companies to buy stakes in Riverside'spower capacity. WEC Energy GroupInc. subsidiary WisconsinPublic Service Corp. has the option to buy up to 200 MW ofRiverside from 2020 to 2024, with no more than 100 MW available in the firsttwo years. MGE Energy Inc.subsidiary Madison Gas andElectric Co. has an option to buy up to 50 MW from 2020 to 2025,with no more than 25 MW available in the first two years. Also, local co-opsAdams-Columbia ElectricCooperative and RockEnergy Cooperative could buy up to 55 MW through at least 2026.

These utilities and co-ops have not yet exercised theirrights to buy stakes in the Riverside expansion, according to Reigstad.

Given how recent the decision from the PSC is, it would bepremature to say when or if Wisconsin Public Service would exercise its option,company spokesman Kerry Spees said.

WisconsinPower & Light serves 463,000 electric customers in central and southernWisconsin and uses Alliant Energy as its trade name.

The PSC staff had previously that the Riverside expansion wouldbe the most economical way for Alliant to obtain new power, compared toalternatives like converting gas-fired combustion turbines at the plant to acombined-cycle facility or convertingunit 4 at the Edgewaterplant from coal to natural gas.

Butanother in-state utility, WisconsinElectric Power Co. had argued in filings with the commission that acheaper option would be to delay the Riverside expansion until 2024 and insteadhave Alliant buy power from Wisconsin Electric itself. This opposition waslater dropped due to a settlement agreement struck last December. That settlement included aprovision that Alliant will buy power from Wisconsin Electric under athree-year agreement.

WisconsinPublic Service owns 31.8% of Edgewater unit 4, according to SNL Energy data.WEC Energy Group also owns Wisconsin Electric.