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Wis. power plant will kill billions of lake fish, Sierra Club claims
By Gary Wisby
Chicago Sun Times
Published May 13, 2005


Billions of fish in Lake Michigan will die over the next 50 years if a new power plant is built south of Milwaukee, according to a Sierra Club lawsuit.

Fish eggs, fry and larvae will be killed by a water intake extending 1-1/2 miles into the lake, the environment group alleges.

We Energies, which wants to build a $2.2 billion Elm Road Generating Station next to its Oak Creek Power Plant, said the project's design will minimize harm to the environment.

Depending on their size, the fish and much of their food supply will either be sucked into the plant or trapped against grates on the end of the intake, the Sierra Club said.

Also, the group said, the plant will return water to the lake 15 degrees warmer, killing fish and other aquatic life at the shoreline.

"Fish and the tiny plants and animals at the base of the food chain can't swim out of the way," said the Sierra Club's Bruce Nilles. Billions of fish will die over the power plant's projected 50-year life, he said.

How it's done in Illinois

The Elm Road plant's two units would pipe in 2 billion gallons of lake water a day to cool off coal-fired boilers.

This technology is "completely unnecessary," Nilles said. It has been outlawed in Illinois, where cooling towers are used instead. The tower system requires less water, recycles most of it and doesn't return it heated to lakes or rivers. Peabody Energy's plant southeast of St. Louis draws only 30 million gallons a day from the Kaskaskia River.

But spokesman Thad Nation said We Energies' method actually conserves water. While towers lose a lot of water to evaporation, the Elm Road plant will put "99 percent" of it back into the lake.

And because lots of electricity is needed to power a tower, the plant would have to be larger and thus cost more to build and operate. "Electricity is always about trade-offs," Nation said.

For the intake, experts from the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee found a sandy shoal on the lake bottom where little marine life will be disturbed, he said. Using 20 smaller intakes instead of four large ones will cut the inflow rate, and covers with a fine mesh will reduce the amount of aquatic organisms being sucked in.

Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan, the Chicago-based Alliance for the Great Lakes and other environmental groups also have filed legal challenges to the proposed plant.

"At a time when we're trying to clean up the lake and restore fisheries and habitat, this power plant is a major step backward," said Cameron Davis, executive director of the alliance.

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