The Charter Street plant at UW will burn biomass instead of coal by 2012 if Gov. Jim Doyle\’s plan is approved.[/media-credit]

In an effort to better the environment, the University of Wisconsin’s Charter Street heating plant will no longer burn coal, Gov. Jim Doyle announced Friday.

A biomass boiler will be installed by 2012, which will produce 250,000 tons of biomass each year, supplying UW with steam for heating and cooling, according to a statement from Doyle.

The boiler will help the state reach its goal of having 25 percent of Wisconsin’s energy produced by renewable resources by the year 2025.

The biomass material burned by the boiler will include wood and agricultural products, according to UW Associate Vice Chancellor Alan Fish.

Fish called the announcement “a huge transformational moment” for the university.

“[It’s] taking … heating from the 19th century into the 21st century,” Fish said. “It’s a more than $200 million investment by the state, and will eliminate the burning of over 100 tons of coal and have the potential to burn 250,000 tons of biomass.”

Fish said although coal is currently cheaper than biomass materials, the university believes the cost will change over time and biomass will eventually cost less.

Fish added the plan will help the emerging biomass market because the university will be a guaranteed customer of biomass products. Most of these products will be produced in Wisconsin.

Although the proposal was met with praise from a variety of environmental groups, it received mixed reviews from legislators.

Rep. Phil Montgomery, R-Green Bay, who served on the Governor’s Task Force for Global Warming, said he opposes the decision to implement a new biomass boiler. He argues the benefit of implementing one biomass boiler does not outweigh the loss of stable coal production.

“It’s like switching from a Hummer to an Escalade,” Montgomery said. “It’s just window dressing.”

Montgomery said he is concerned current fuel demands will not be met. Since coal is currently the cheapest fuel on the market, Montgomery said he is worried about the increase in fuel costs once coal-based energy is eliminated.

However, Rep. James Soletski, D-Green Bay, said he is in favor of the biomass boiler.

“This is a real important step in our journey to getting some cost comparisons between what we were doing before and what we are doing now,” Soletski said. “If we hope to meet the 25 percent renewable portfolio, we’re going to need to see more kinds of projects like this.”

According to Soletski, who sits on the Assembly Energy and Utilities Committee, cost is not the only asset associated with coal burning. Coal also needs to be shipped and the residue has to be disposed of once the coal is burned.

The new boiler will receive funding from the 2009-11 biennium budget, which Doyle expects to release in the upcoming weeks.

It may also receive support from the proposed federal stimulus package because it promotes clean, efficient energy, Doyle said in a statement.

A Doyle spokesperson was unavailable for further comment as of press time.

Rachel Vesco contributed to this report