MADISON, Wis. - Local residents gathered Saturday to learn about coal-powered electricity and to demand that Madison Gas and Electric become a coal-free utility.
The Rally for a Coal-Free Community was planned by the Sierra Club and more than 20 other Madison-area organizations, according to a news release.
The release said the event started with a session teaching about what organizers said are negative effects of coal-powered electricity on children, climate change and public health. The attendees then rallied in McPike Park and marched to the MGE headquarters to ask the company to commit to becoming coal-free.
Clean energy activist Abby Lois emceed the event.
"I am 22, and 20 of those years have been the hottest years on record," Lois said. "MGE calls itself a community energy company, but is turning its back on sick Wisconsin families and the stability of our climate. I deserve energy that doesn't compromise my future and the health of my neighbors."
Demonstrators said MGE gets 63 percent of its energy from coal and that declining costs of wind and solar energy make renewable energy a solution to coal dependency.
In a statement to News 3, MGE spokesman Steve Schultz said "sustainability is important to us. We know it is important to many of our customers." Schultz said the company has committed to reducing carbon emissions by 40 percent by 2030.
MGE is a minority owner of the Elm Road Generating Station, part of the Oak Creek generating site. The site is made up of two plants, the Oak Creek Power Plant and ERGS, and is also owned in part by Wisconsin Public Power Inc. and We Energies.
According to We Energies, ERGS uses 6,000 to 6,400 tons of coal a day, depending on system demands.
The Environmental Protection Agency said coal ash, created when power plants burn coal to produce electricity, is one of the largest types of industrial waste generated in the United States.
Saturday’s event comes after an incident on March 5, when winds blew dust from a coal storage pile at the Oak Creek and Elm Road coal plants into nearby neighborhoods.
Rally attendees urged MGE to consider a faster transition to renewable fuel sources ahead of the company's annual shareholder meeting on Tuesday.
Schultz said MGE already has multiple clean energy initiatives underway, including expanding its wind farm holdings in northeast Iowa and Fond du Lac and its solar projects, like the Shared Solar program in Middleton.
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