Alliant Energy Joins Midwestern Utility Peers With a Big Solar Plan

Midwestern utility Alliant Energy plans to build up to 1
gigawatt of solar in its Wisconsin service territory by 2023,
according to a plan it released last week. 

While light on detail, the solar plan will help Alliant reach
goals it laid out last year to cut carbon emissions 80 percent and
ramp up the renewable portion of its energy mix to 30 percent by
2030. In 2018, renewables accounted for 20 percent of Alliant’s
portfolio while coal made up 31 percent and natural gas accounted
for 42 percent. The investor-owned utility serves about 15 percent
of Wisconsin and also has customers in Iowa. 

As Alliant adds solar, it plans to entirely excise coal from its
portfolio in coming decades — a growing trend across the
industrial Midwest (it will also close coal ash ponds by the end of
2023). Xcel Energy, which serves Minnesota in addition to several
other Midwestern and western states, in December said it would
achieve
100 percent carbon-free electricity
by 2050. More recently, the
Northern Indiana Public Service Company (NIPSCO, a utility serving
parts of Indiana, put
out request for proposals
asking for 2.3 gigawatts of solar or
solar-plus-storage.

While the solar boom once favored states like California,
Arizona and the Northeast — states with the best solar resources
or the most favorable policies — the Midwest is starting to pick
up on the transition. There is less than 100 megawatts of solar
installed in Wisconsin currently, according to to Wood Mackenzie
Power & Renewables.

Analysts have been expecting installations to pick up in 2020.
“It’s part of a trend we’ve been calling out for a bit
now,” said Ravi Manghani, head of solar research at WoodMac.
“Declining solar costs have made it the most cost-effective
generation resource, even in the Midwest, surpassing wind in that
category.”

Levelized cost of energy data from WoodMac show both wind and
solar now beating new-build combined cycle natural gas, with solar
slated to undercut wind prices in 2022 in Wisconsin. 

More utilities are making the jump now, Manghani said, because
of the coming phasedown of the solar Investment Tax Credit.

“We anticipate more utilities to push forward with their solar
plans,” said Manghani. “If not this year to capture the 30
percent, definitely in 2020 and 2021.” 

For large-scale projects, 2019 is the last year to get the full
ITC before it gradually steps down to a permanent 10 percent in
2022. 

In addition to big buildouts of renewables, Alliant plans to
spend $1.8 billion through 2020 on updating its power grid to more
effectively interface with solar and other renewables as well as
electric vehicles and batteries. 

Like NIPSCO, Alliant said transitioning to more renewables now
offers “the best economic value. And like its peer in Indiana,
Alliant said the broader Midwestern wholesale market will help
maintain reliability as it transitions away from traditional fossil
fuel baseload resources.

Though Alliant’s current plan covers only Wisconsin, the
utility said it plans to begin planning updates for its Iowa
service territory in early 2020. The utility also plans to add 680
megawatts of wind to its portfolio through 2020, in both states,
and sign more than 1 gigawatt of renewable power purchase
agreements in 2020. 

In its announcement, Alliant noted that its targets are more
ambitious than those laid out in the Paris climate agreement. That
agreement was designed to be strengthened with time, however, and
some utility pledges have
caught criticism
for not moving quickly enough on transitioning
to renewables.

Though Alliant is adding wind and solar in the next couple
years, it also plans to add a 730-megawatt gas plant to its
generation portfolio. Stretching the transition into 2050 also
affords the utility plenty of room to watch as solar prices
continue to fall.

Source: FS – GreenTech Media
Alliant Energy Joins Midwestern Utility Peers With a Big Solar Plan