Power Plant Takes Its Case To The Supreme
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
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
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
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
“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
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.