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Great Lakes Article:

Power Plant Takes Its Case To The Supreme Court
ChiefEngineer.org

OAK CREEK, WI (AP) - When Wisconsin’s largest utility proposed in late 2000 to build new coal-fired power plants next to Lake Michigan here, it embarked on the biggest power project in state history.

Since then, We Energies’ proposal to add twin, $2.15 billion boilers has had a rocky reception from some neighbors and environmentalists, sparking debates on everything from the claim of a future power crisis to whether state regulators were too quick to approve it.

The latest challenge goes before the state Supreme Court, which agreed to hear the case after a judge tossed out state approval for the plants, saying plans weren’t scrutinized enough.

Dane County Judge David Flanagan said he was surprised the facility was approved before there was a plan for the design, location and cost of transmission lines to get the power to customers.

State officials and We Energies say the transmission system can’t be set up until the plans for the plants are finalized.

Lawsuits are pending over the air, water and construction permits the state Department of Natural Resources approved, including one allowing the plants to tap 2.2 billion gallons of water from Lake Michigan each day, then return it to the lake 15 degrees warmer. A permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is pending.

University of Michigan water scientists David Jude, who was hired by Racine’s S.C.Johnson & Son - a party to the Supreme Court lawsuit - to investigate the potential impact, said the plant’s intake valve system, the hot water and construction would hurt the lake’s food chain.

“It’s probably going to kill all the aquatic life in some places,” Jude said. “This is bigger than any other power plant on the Great Lakes, so it’s sort of unprecedented.”

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Agency wants the Corps of Engineers to require its own environmental impact statement, said fisheries biologist Joel Trick of the Green Bay office.

In a December letter, the agency said the project could harm aquatic life and lose nearshore aquatic habitat and wetlands.

Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan urged the Corps to do a stricter review of the plants, which would be among the largest water users on the Great Lakes, and again protested the DNR permit that would allow an 8,000-foot tunnel to daily draw almost as much water as Chicago and 100 suburbs use in a day.

Her office said the plants would discharge toxic mercury into the lake, kill aquatic life in the intake system and its hot water would degrade the lake’s ecosystem.

“Our two states share both the benefits of this important resource and a responsibility to protect it; and the Attorney General does not believe that issuance of this permit, as currently drafted, would be in keeping with that responsibility,” her office wrote.

Pollution likely would be felt downwind, because of tall smokestacks that would carry emissions out of the area, said Lloyd Eagan, director of the DNR’s Bureau of Air Management. But all the emissions are within allowable levels, she said.

“We are confident that the permit that we issued for air will protect air quality standards, and by doing so will also protect public health,” she said.

Two neighboring communities, Oak Creek and Caledonia, agreed to support the plants after We Energies said it would give each millions of dollars a year and spend $20 million apiece for economic development.
The plants, which would add enough electricity to power 615,000 homes, are part of We Energies’ $7 billion, 10-year Power the Future plan. They will run 24 hours a day, seven days a week when they become fully operational in 2009 and 2010.

“We have no choice but to build new plants. The question becomes what is the best choice for customers in terms of keeping the rates as low as possible,” said Thad Nation, a We Energies spokesman.

He said reviews by the company and state Public Service Commission found coal was the most cost-effective solution to looming power needs. The company will argue to the court the plants were extensively reviewed and meet all environmental and consumer laws.

The deal to build the plants requires the company to monitor and enforce emission limits, which must stay at the same or lower levels than in 2000. We Energies is required to increase its use of renewable energy sources and agreed to install two air monitoring stations nearby.

Part of the court’s review will focus on how the PSC, which approved the project, administered state law.

The agency worked with the DNR to balance growing energy needs with concerns about cost and environment, spokeswoman Linda Barth said. Its three appointed commissioners reviewed more than 12,000 pages of testimony and exhibits and issued an 882-page final environmental impact statement, she said.

The agency has forecast Wisconsin’s energy demand to increase 2.5 percent to 3 percent a year and believes, along with the company, that delays could hurt the electricity supply in southeastern Wisconsin.
Others say the notion of a power crisis is overblown.

The Citizen’s Utility Board, a consumer group, said an economic downturn and several cool summers slowed demand.

“We can figure out whether these plants can be built or not and then proceed and we won’t run into a crisis,” said executive director Charlie Higley.

Nation, of We Energies, said customers will pay for higher construction costs if the project is delayed.

“We’re going to have to build new plants, and no matter what kind of plants we’re going to build, there’s going to be an increased cost to consumers,” he said.


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