Natural gas plant near Wausau approved by Wisconsin regulators

State regulators approved plans for a $171 million natural gas plant near Wausau, despite opposition from ratepayers, environmentalists and renewable energy advocates.

Two of the state's largest utilities, We Energies and Wisconsin Public Service, say the plant is needed to maintain the power supply when renewable energy is unable to meet demand.

Opponents say the plant is not necessary and will raise rates as well as delay a shift away from fossil fuel.

But, the utilities say the 128-megawatt plant is a key part of a $3.5 billion plan to retire 1,600 megawatts of fossil fuel and replace it with wind, solar and battery storage power, Wisconsin Public Radio reported.

WEC Energy Group, which owns the two utilities, has pledged to cut carbon emissions 80% by 2030 and be carbon neutral by 2050.

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As part of the transition, they plan to keep a "modest amount" of natural gas in their power mix that includes the new plant.

Commissioner Ellen Nowak argued regulators need to "be the adults" to ensure reliable and affordable power throughout the clean energy transition.

"The record here shows that we have to build these units. They’re necessary," Nowak said. "If you like renewables, then ... you need these units. They are a necessary part of the transition."

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However, Commissioner Tyler Huebner, the lone dissenting vote, noted utilities currently have more than 3,000 megawatts of natural gas in their power mix.

The commission voted 2-1 Thursday in favor of the plant.

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