MGE commits to achieving carbon reductions of at least 80% by 2030

By increasing our 2030 carbon reduction goal to at least 80% by 2030, MGE is again demonstrating our ongoing and consistent leadership in the fight against climate change.

In 2015, MGE was one of the first utilities in the country to set a 2030 carbon reduction goal. Our goal to reduce carbon emissions 40% by 2030 was, at the time, one of the most aggressive in the nation and consistent with the Paris Agreement on climate change.  

In 2019, MGE aligned its decarbonization goals with the latest climate science from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and its October 2018 Special Report. We announced our goal of net-zero carbon electricity by 2050 and increased our 2030 goal to be at least a 65% reduction in carbon.

In her 2020 report, Dr. Tracey Holloway of University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies concluded our goal was consistent with and more aggressive than the IPCC analysis. By committing to at least 80% carbon reduction by 2030, MGE is one of a handful of utilities in the nation with this aggressive goal. MGE has stated, since introducing our carbon reduction goals, if we can go further faster by working with our customers, we will. Our updated goal, of at least 80% reduction by 2030, demonstrates the effectiveness of our partnerships with our customers to achieve shared goals. Working with our customers, we are moving further and faster.  

We’re working quickly to drive carbon from our energy supply mix cost-effectively and consistent with climate science. A couple of primary factors will help MGE achieve our decarbonization goals and reach net-zero carbon by 2050—our ongoing transition away from coal and continuing growth in our use of renewable energy. 

Our Ongoing Transition from Coal

In 2011, MGE eliminated coal at Blount Generating Station, the only coal-fired facility solely owned by MGE. In 2016, MGE reduced its minority ownership share in the coal-fired Columbia Energy Center, which has been a significant source of capacity and energy to serve MGE customers. 

In early 2021, MGE and the Columbia plant’s co-owners announced plans to retire the plant by the end of 2024, or about 15 years ahead of schedule. In late 2021, MGE, as a minority owner, and the other co-owners of the Elm Road Generating Station announced the transition of the coal-fired plant to natural gas, which is expected to begin within the next couple of years, and the eventual elimination of coal as a fuel source there by 2035, at which point MGE will no longer own any coal-fired generation. 

Currently, Columbia is a major resource to serve MGE customers. It provides about 25% of MGE’s capacity and about one-third of the energy used by MGE customers. MGE is actively investing in renewable energy to replace the capacity and energy from Columbia. 

To ensure MGE is able to meet the needs of our customers, MGE is replacing the 200 megawatts (MW) of capacity provided by the Columbia plant with investments in cleaner energy, with the anticipated addition of nearly 400 MW of wind, solar and battery storage between 2015 and 2024. MGE continues to evaluate other potential wind and solar sites as part of this ongoing transition. These clean energy investments will replace a majority of the capacity needed due to the early retirement of Columbia.

The company also plans to invest in 25 MW in the new, highly efficient West Riverside Energy Center, an existing, state-of-the-art natural gas plant in Beloit, Wis., with an option to purchase an additional 25 MW. The West Riverside facility offers MGE customers a safe, affordable, reliable and environmentally efficient energy source that will help enable MGE's path toward net-zero carbon electricity. This investment enables MGE to retire Columbia nearly 15 years ahead of schedule and to dramatically increase the amount of clean energy in our generating mix. We expect carbon emissions from a 50-MW share of West Riverside will be less than 10% of the carbon emissions generated at Columbia.  

MGE needs generation to make up for the retirement of the Columbia plant. While we are investing in multiple renewable generation and battery storage projects to replace a majority of the lost capacity, adding highly efficient natural gas is necessary for reliability and dispatchability on the system. 

Natural gas plants are an especially efficient backup to renewable energy because they can be dispatched quickly and at times when it's more challenging for wind or solar generation, making it a reliable and cost-effective option. Natural gas, especially a new facility as highly efficient as West Riverside, also has much lower emission rates compared to coal-fired generation. We expect the carbon emissions resulting from a 50-MW share of the West Riverside Energy Center to be less than 10% of the carbon emissions resulting from our share of the output of the Columbia Energy Center.

Natural gas is considered a bridge fuel on our path toward a net-zero carbon future. The energy industry continues to evolve rapidly. New technologies continue to emerge and to develop, such as carbon capture, utilization and sequestration, which, if proven cost-effective, hold the potential to make natural gas carbon-neutral in the future.

MGE is committed to our carbon reduction and net-zero carbon goals. We would expect to take advantage of new technologies and other options in the future, such as the early retirement or the sale of fossil fuel assets, that allow us to meet our goal of net-zero carbon electricity by 2050.    

Our Growing Use of Renewable Energy

Renewable energy will play a significant role in helping MGE achieve our goals of at least 80% reduction in carbon by 2030 and net-zero carbon by 2050. Our renewable resource timeline shows recent and proposed renewable energy investments to serve our customers. 

MGE continues to decarbonize its energy supply with the anticipated addition of nearly 400 MW of wind, solar and battery storage between 2015 and 2024. Some of these renewable projects are already generating cost-effective, carbon-free energy for our customers. Some projects are under construction, and others are undergoing regulatory review. In 2021, MGE announced plans to purchase a share of the following: MGE is constantly evaluating potential wind and solar sites to deliver cost-effective clean energy to our customers. We expect to invest in additional renewable generation beyond what is currently planned.