Capitol Heat and Power Plant
The state of Wisconsin has halted the use of coal at the Capitol Heat and Power Plant in Downtown Madison, marking the first in a series of state-owned plants expected to reduce or eliminate the use of coal. LEAH L. JONES — State Journal archives

For the first time in 100 years, no coal is being burned at Downtown Madison's Capitol Heat and Power Plant, said David Helbach, Wisconsin's director of state facilities.

Late last month, the state shut down its coal burners at the plant, which provides steam and chilled water to the state Capitol and nearby state office buildings.

The state will spend about $25 million this fall to install gas boilers that will allow the plant to cool and heat Downtown office buildings using only natural gas, Helbach said.

In the interim, the plant is using smaller boilers already in place and will buy electricity from Madison Gas & Electric as needed.

"We'll be able to produce all of the steam and chilled water we need without using coal," Helbach said.

The switchover is part of a court agreement between the state and the Sierra Club calling for the elimination of coal at two state-owned plants: UW-Madison's Charter Street Heating Plant and the Capitol plant. Converting the Charter Street plant from coal to biomass is expected to cost $251 million.

Last month, the state Department of Administration also announced changes at six other coal-fired heating plants that will reduce or eliminate the use of coal at those locations. Coal burning is a major producer of particulate pollution, greenhouse gases and mercury contamination in fish.

DOA Secretary Michael Morgan announced the state would install additional pollution controls, eliminate coal use or possibly shut down five coal-fired heating plants at Mendota Mental Health Institution in Madison and UW campuses at Eau Claire, La Crosse, Oshkosh and River Falls.

The department also said it would stop using coal at the state-owned heating plant in Waupun that serves Waupun, Dodge and Burke correctional institutions and other state-owned buildings in the area.

The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources had determined that those plants were violating the federal Clean Air Act.

Jennifer Feyerherm, director of the Sierra Club's Wisconsin Clean Energy Campaign, called kicking coal at the Capitol plant "a wonderful thing."

"I know that hundreds and hundreds of activists and volunteers around the state who've been pushing for this are excited that we have our first state plant officially off coal," she said.

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