I always had a bent for science, mathematics and physics, so when I went to college engineering was a no-brainer for me. As I got to the point where I had to select a major, nuclear just appealed to me. After college, I was looking for a place with a nuclear power plant and Wisconsin Public Service owned the Kewaunee Nuclear Power Plant at the time. WPS stood out among everyone I talked to.
My first job was as an associate nuclear engineer in the licensing group, which did the interface with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. That was in January 1979. On March 28, 1979, the Three Mile Island accident occurred. So here I was – a young nuclear engineer right in the middle of all the analyses and the lessons learned. I probably got a whole life worth of education in a year. I later became operations manager and then plant manager at Kewaunee. After that, I headed up our fossil organization so I learned about other forms of electrical generation. Later, I worked at the Nuclear Management Company, formed by WPS and other Midwest companies. I came back here and worked for one of our subsidiaries called Power Development Inc., an independent power producer. Every job I’ve learned something else.
One of the challenges we have is to figure out how to deliver our product as well as we ever have without huge increases in cost. At the same time, we have environmental rules that continue to evolve and we have to find ways to meet those rules or exceed them. We are in a pretty good situation because we just finished our Weston 4 Power Plant last year, so we don’t see a need for new baseload power for probably more than 10 years. As a result, our focus over the next few years will be how best to meet the renewable portfolio standards we have.
From a national standpoint, because of the concern about carbon emissions, there’s a lot of effort to improve renewable generation. It’s another piece of the puzzle. The coal plants you see today are much different than the ones built 30 to 40 years ago. They’re more efficient, so they use less coal per megawatt generated, and they have much improved technology for capturing many emissions. Carbon dioxide is the next challenge, because right now there is no commercial technology to take the carbon dioxide out of the flue gas. There’s two ways to go about it. One is you do it after you burn the coal. The other is you do it before you burn the coal. You turn the coal into gas and take the carbon out before you burn it. In Wisconsin we’re a little disadvantaged because we don’t have any natural geologic storage for the carbon dioxide, so Wisconsin isn’t likely a place where you’re going to see a lot of carbon sequestration occur.
As for the prospects for nuclear, no one’s put a shovel in the ground yet, but I think it’s inevitable. It’ll probably take 10 years to get through the licensing and construction process and bring a plant online. In Wisconsin it will probably be longer than that because we aren’t going to need more power that soon.
One of the things we’re doing is talking to Manitoba Hydro, which has the ability to develop hydroelectric facilities in a very environmentally benign way and transmit that power to us. Hydro is a natural complement to wind power because hydro can be managed very efficiently to increase or decrease the power available, so as the wind changes you can have a steady supply of power.
I think a substantial amount of our power needs can be generated by renewable sources. In the next 25 to 30 years, I absolutely see more wind, solar and other alternatives. To me, the message is there’s no silver bullet. We have to look at the whole portfolio. Let’s look at clean coal, nuclear and renewables and figure out the best mix that helps us meet the needs that we’re going to have.