We Energies defends Oak Creek proposal


We Energies defends Oak Creek proposal

Commentary, by Bob Hall, for SBT

Editor’s note: This is Wisconsin Energy Corp. response to concerns over its Power the Future plan, which proposes building three new coal-fired electricity generating systems at its Oak Creek plant. This response was written for Small Business Times by Bob Hall, plant manager at the Oak Creek Power Plant operated by We Energies, a subsidiary of Wisconsin Corp.

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When the topic of this area’s future energy needs is discussed, the response offered by critics of our Power the Future plan needs to recognize some powerful facts.

Here are three:

1. Energy use growth is reliably projected to be 3% to 4% per year. Our area is experiencing a growing energy shortage that is manageable if we act soon.

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2. People and companies in this area are doing an excellent job of conserving energy, so very little additional reduction is possible from just a conservation approach. The growth in need is real.

3. There will be cost and availability uncertainties of fuel supplies for the foreseeable future.

This fundamental reality requires that any plan We Energies develops to address the growing electricity shortage take into account both the environmental impact of our decisions and the effect on the families and businesses of the region as they seek fuel for heating and other personal uses.

Power the Future is our company’s 10-year growth strategy, designed to address our region and Wisconsin’s growing energy needs. The plan involves building 2,800 megawatts of new, in-state generation, improving our existing generating facilities and upgrading our electric distribution system.

We have stressed a mixed fuel strategy that relies heavily on coal in Power the Future. We have proposed building both natural gas-fueled and coal-fueled power plants. We believe a diverse fuel mix strategy enables We Energies to deliver what the public expects in energy supplies, protects customers from fuel shortages and to some extent moderates the huge price spikes that occur when there is market uncertainty.

There are some other important realities. Power the Future will have a positive environmental impact. When our Power the Future plan and our agreement with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources are fully implemented, our system-wide emissions will be lower than they are today. For example, sulfur dioxide will be reduced more than 50%, nitrogen oxide more than 65% and mercury more than 25%, while we generate 50% more energy.

We Energies is currently investing $137,000 every day to cut emissions from our existing fossil-fueled power plants. Those investments will continue for at least the next 10 years. The three coal-fueled units that are proposed for Elm Road Generating Station in Oak Creek will benefit from the most advanced technology available and meet the toughest environmental regulations, and will remove 80 percent of mercury, 95 percent of sulfur dioxide and 85 percent of nitrogen oxide.

I have worked on and off at the Oak Creek Power Plant for the past 24 years and have lived in the area for just as long. The company has 537 employees and 160 retirees that live in Racine County and 190 employees and 29 retirees that live in Oak Creek. All of us, including our families, have to look at what our company proposes and does from the perspective of local residents, because that’s who we are.

Whatever impacts our proposal has on Oak Creek will be felt and experienced by all of us as well.

This issue is about resolving a growing energy shortfall, a situation being experienced virtually everywhere in America. Traditional simple solutions, like just buying excess energy elsewhere, will be increasingly difficult to accomplish as everyone seeks to respond to their local growing energy requirements.

We believe that when Power the Future is thoroughly examined by regulators, government officials and the public, together, the correct decision will be made and our area and the state will have an environmentally sensible, reliable, sustainable energy plan that will be affordable for customers.

To get there, we need to focus on the right question, which is "Where is the energy we know we’ll need going to come from?"

Jan. 24, 2003 Small Business Times, Milwaukee

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