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Wisconsin Energy gets nod for new power plants

MILWAUKEE- Wisconsin Energy Corp.'s WEC.N plan to build two new natural gas-fired power plants was approved by state energy regulators, a company spokesman said on Tuesday, in order to meet rising demand for electricity in the state.

The plants are part of Milwaukee-based Wisconsin Energy's $7 billion program to build 2,800 MW of new generating capacity in the state at a cost of $3 billion, improve existing plants for $1.3 billion, and upgrade the electric distribution system for $2.7 billion.

The Wisconsin Public Service Commission voted on Monday to allow Wisconsin Energy to build two 545 megawatt plants on the site of its existing 320 MW coal-fired plant in Port Washington on Lake Michigan north of Milwaukee. One megawatt is power for about 1,000 homes.

The regulatory commission also approved a 12.7 percent return on equity for the plants and set a capital structure of 53 percent equity and 47 percent debt.

A final written order from the regulatory commission is expected by the end of the year, a WPSC spokeswoman said.

Chris Iglar, spokesman for Wisconsin Energy, said construction of the first Port Washington plant is expected to begin in the first half next year, with the unit to go into service sometime in 2005.

The second Port Washington plant is projected to be completed in 2008. The existing coal-fired plant will be demolished.

Wisconsin Energy also plans to build three 600 MW coal-fired plants at its Oak Creek plant site on Lake Michigan south of Milwaukee, with production starts forecast for 2007, 2009 and 2011.

The Oak Creek plants have not been approved yet by the regulatory commission.

Iglar said an existing 1,065 MW coal-fired plant at Oak Creek will continue to operate with upgrades to reduce emissions.

Wisconsin Energy's We Power subsidiary will build and own the new plants and lease them back to regulated utility Wisconsin Electric Power, Iglar said.

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