BEN CLASSON/Herald photo

The fate of three local power plants is in question after Gov. Jim Doyle announced in August the state would no longer allow coal burning to heat or power government or University of Wisconsin buildings.

Doyle’s ban applies only to the three major power plants in Madison that currently provide heating and cooling to state agencies and UW — the Charter Street plant, Capitol Heath and Power and Madison Gas and Electric, according to Linda Barth, spokesperson for the Department of Administration.

“This is great news for Dane County’s air,” said Jennifer Feyerherm, director of the Clean Air Campaign for the Sierra Club. “The three biggest sources of fine particulate matter, mercury and all kinds of pollutants have all agreed to stop burning the most polluting fuel.”

The Sierra Club helped bring about the governor’s decision when it sued the Charter Street plant in May 2007, according to Feyerherm.

“The Charter Street power plant was violating the Clean Air Act, and so after two years of trying to work with the university and getting nowhere, the Sierra Club filed a lawsuit under the Clean Air Act,” Feyerherm said.

According to Feyerherm, of the coal burned at plants like the one on Charter Street, 25 percent produces energy, 15 percent goes out the stacks and 60 percent is pumped into Lake Monona.

As a result, in accordance with UW, the Sierra Club and the Department of Natural Resources, the DOA launched a study to look at all the power plants to come up with alternative sources of energy, with a final goal of reducing coal consumption at the Charter Street plant by 15 percent, according to Barth.

“The study looked at a whole bunch of combinations, ranging from leaving the situation as it is, which would be like putting on a Band-Aid, and that doesn’t make any sense, all the way to having a single plant replace all three plants to provide heat for campus and all the buildings as well as produce electricity for everyone,” Feyerherm said.

Other options being considered are building new plants to burn natural gas or bio-fuels or retrofitting equipment in each existing plant to burn alternative fuels and gas, Barth said.

The third option is cogeneration, which takes the heat waste from electricity and uses it to heat and cool buildings.

The decision left before the state is determining the number of new plants, and how large they should be, and a final decision must be made by the end of November, when UW must submit a building permit to the DNR, according to the legally binding agreement made between the DOA, the university and the state.