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Great Lakes Article:

Editorial: Be heard on power plant
The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Posted February 15th, 2005


Today in Oak Creek, the state Department of Natural Resources will hold a public hearing on a permit for a water intake and discharge system that would serve Wisconsin Energy Corp.'s proposed new coal plant on the shore of Lake Michigan. The hearing begins at 12:30 p.m. in the courtroom of the Oak Creek Police Department, 301 W. Ryan Road. It will last until 4 p.m. and then reconvene at 5:30 p.m.

Anyone who can spare or make the time should try to be there. The project is that important, and enough questions have been raised about certain aspects to warrant closer public and government scrutiny.

The proposed plant - which we continue to support in general - is designed to help supply the state's growing energy needs. Utilities have made a good case that without more power plants and transmission lines, the state's economic future has dim prospects. Businesses are unlikely to expand in or to move to a state that can't provide adequate reliable power.

But critics of the proposal also have made some good arguments, such as whether there has been adequate public participation and government oversight as new details have come to light, and just how much harm the plant could do to public health and the environment. The latter is particularly pertinent in regard to potential harm to Lake Michigan from the water intake and discharge system, which would be one of the largest, if not the largest, intake systems on the Great Lakes.

"If approved, the proposal would allow We Energies to pump up to 2.2 billion gallons of water a day from an offshore intake through the facility before releasing heated water back into the lake," said Eric Uram of the Sierra Club's Midwest office in a recent statement. "We Energies' proposed power plant and its wastewater and cooling system come at too high a cost to Lake Michigan, subjecting the lake to thermal pollution, wastewater contaminated by toxic mercury and fish kills."

Such arguments cannot be lightly dismissed. Certainly, the potential of harm from the water intake system raises serious questions about whether some other method of cooling might not be more appropriate. At the very least, We Energies needs to do a better job of making its case.

The state has a tough job: It has to weigh the utilities' arguments that power demands are escalating against the critics' contention that a new coal plant will cost too much in damage to the environment and public health. Residents - and not just those concerned with a healthy environment and a healthy economy - also have a tough job. They have to weigh the same issues and make sure that state officials understand what the priorities should be.

Maybe after all that, a reasonable compromise can be found and the state can strike the right balance in making sure that reliable power is available for homes and businesses into the future without selling out the environment.


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