grants air permit for planned Oak Creek coal plants
By Thomas Content
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
The state Department of Natural Resources has granted an
air emissions permit to Milwaukee-based We Energies for
its $2.15 billion project to build new coal plants in Oak
The DNR approval, announced Thursday, came despite objections
raised by environmental groups and local residents during
a November hearing.
Marc Looze, clean air campaign director at Clean Wisconsin,
the group formerly known as Wisconsin's Environmental
Decade, said the group was still reviewing the 148-page
permit and had not decided whether to challenge it in
The permit is one of several needed by the utility in
order to begin construction on two new coal-fired boilers
at its Oak Creek power plant.
During hearings, environmentalists criticized We Energies
for proposing the new coal plants in one of the most polluted
areas of Wisconsin.
In addition, new procedures in Illinois and New Mexico
have suggested that the DNR could have used a more stringent
standard by requiring the utility to build a coal plant
using a process known as coal gasification.
Gasification converts coal into natural gas and generates
much fewer pollutants than conventional coal-burning power
plants. But the state Public Service Commission in November
rejected one gasification plant as too expensive, contending
the technology is too untested at the scale proposed by
The DNR permit gives the utility approval to build three
new coal boilers, two using conventional technology plus
the gasification plant rejected by the PSC.
"It's important to note that even with the third
unit we would still meet air quality standards,"
utility spokesman Thad Nation said.
Eric Uram of the Sierra Club noted that the permit would
allow the utility to add thousands of tons of pollutants
into the air in an area already in violation of federal
We Energies hopes to begin construction of the Oak Creek
project late this year or early next year, but the project
still must receive other environmental permits - including
a water permit for an intake pipe that would more than
double the amount of water the Oak Creek coal plant withdraws
daily from Lake Michigan.
If a court case is filed over the air quality permit,
that would become the third issue to end up in court relating
to the utility's power plant expansion plan.
Clean Wisconsin, along with S.C. Johnson & Son Inc.
of Racine, has already challenged the approval of the
coal plants by the state Public Service Commission. That
case, along with suits filed by the City of Oak Creek,
Town of Caledonia and Calpine Corp. of San Jose, Calif.,
have been consolidated and will be decided in Dane County
Circuit Court, said Pamela McGillivray, a Clean Wisconsin
In addition, Clean Wisconsin, the Sierra Club and the
Wisconsin Citizens' Utility Board have filed objections
in federal court in Milwaukee to an agreement the Milwaukee-based
utility signed last year with the federal Environmental