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Great Lakes Article:

Oak Creek power plant would draw heavily from lake
Wisconsin Energy Corp. boilers’ demands equal water needs of Chicago

The Associated Press
Posted May 17, 2004


OAK CREEK — Wisconsin Energy Corp. wants approval to draw about 2.2 billion gallons of water from Lake Michigan every day to cool its new coal-fired power plant.

The company has proposed building an 8,000-foot-long tunnel in bedrock beneath the lake to tap the water, which would be almost equal to the water needs of Chicago and 100 surrounding suburbs.

The proposed twin, $2.15 billion coal-burning boilers would become one of the largest water users on the Great Lakes, using far more water than the 120 million gallons the Milwaukee Water Works uses daily.

Most of the water would be returned to the lake under the company’s plan, at a temperature 15 degrees warmer than when it left.

The state Public Service Commission already has approved construction of the new plant, and the state Department of Natural Resources has issued air emissions permits, but the DNR and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers are reviewing the intake proposal.

Wisconsin Energy expects a decision by the end of the year and hopes construction can start next year.

But opponents of the intake pipe worry that small fish and even smaller aquatic life will be drawn into or smashed against the system, which would be 43 feet below the lake’s surface and 1½ miles offshore.

The utility said it already has changed the design so fish mortality would be reduced to meet government requirements, and the DNR agrees the revision would protect most fish.

The company would locate the intake system in a sandy area that is relatively free of aquatic life, said David Lee, director of water quality at We Energies.

Opponents also argue that Wisconsin Energy should be required to construct large, $200 million cooling towers that would recycle water through the plant, rather than drawing it from the lake.

But Wisconsin Energy says using lake water is more efficient and less polluting.

The utility says total air emissions at Oak Creek would drop 60 percent over 10 years with new pollution control technology, and half the existing megawatts at the Oak Creek facility could be shut down.

But David Jude, a freshwater scientist at the University of Michigan who was hired by opponents of the plant, remains worried.

He said the intake still would pull out huge quantities of aquatic life, hurting successive generations and cut the food supply for larger fish.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service also is concerned. The agency’s Green Bay office recommended in October that the Corps of Engineers not issue a permit because the system could have “significant adverse impacts to fish and other aquatic resources.”

Joel Trick, a Fish and Wildlife Service biologist, said some concerns have been satisfied, but the agency still has questions about the project’s effect on the lake bed and surrounding wetlands.

Also, the warmer water that is returned to the lake could shock fish, accelerate hatches of larval eggs and create a mismatch between food supplies and fish, Jude said.

But We Energies’ Lee said past utility industry studies of warm water discharge have not identified problems, and he said the plant would only affect a small part of a lake that is the size of West Virginia.

Opponents say federal regulations require that new power plants be built with the best technology available, meaning water towers instead of an intake system.

But the utility considers the plant an addition to its existing Oak Creek facility, and thus wants to be exempt from that rule.


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