Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Employee’s ’unbearable’ experience goes viral

Imagine waking in the middle of the night to find a bear trapped at your house.

“It was around 1 a.m. on June 20, and my wife and I heard this sound like, ‘Ma! Ma!’” recalled Steve Sickler, an expediting clerk at our service center in Land O’ Lakes, Wisconsin.

Sickler followed the sound to a construction project at his Eagle River home. Inside the foundation for a new sun room, he found a stranded bear cub.

“I always knew we had bears in the area, but never saw one near our home until that night.”  

The cub had fallen into the foundation and was frantically calling to its mother. Eager to avoid a confrontation with the adult bear, Sickler wisely stayed inside and called 911. The Vilas County Sheriff’s Department dispatched a Department of Natural Resources (DNR) warden to the site. 

While waiting for the warden to arrive, Sickler and his wife watched the distraught mother bear pacing back and forth outside their home for over an hour. Meanwhile, the mom’s two other cubs were waiting in a nearby tree.

Sickler had a hunch the cub may climb up a ladder, if he could lower one into the foundation. When the DNR warden arrived, they agreed on the game plan. Within seconds of lowering the ladder, the cub climbed to the top. 


“This was a million to one thing. I’ll never see anything like this again.”

The rescue, which was captured on video, has since gone viral. Sickler has seen it picked up by news sites in England, Australia, India, Iran and Israel. Here in the U.S., stations in Texas, Florida, California and many more have posted the video. And, of course, Wisconsin media outlets have been especially interested. Stations in Rhinelander and Wausau interviewed the Sicklers.

“It blows me away. We finally get our 15 minutes of fame. Well, this is well beyond 15 minutes.”

Link to WJFW story

Link to WSAW story

Monday, June 25, 2018

Introducing the falcon ‘Class of 2018’

The peregrine falcon nesting season has drawn to a close at our power plants. This season, we saw 16 chicks born at our facilities. 



Hatchlings at four of our five sites have fledged, leaving empty nest boxes behind. Chicks remain at only one site, Presque Isle Power Plant in Marquette, Michigan. Dan and Tim likely will be leaving the nest box within a couple weeks. Watch them while you can on our live webcam feed at www.we-energies.com/falcons.

With the addition of this year’s chicks, the total number of peregrines born at We Energies power plants stands at more than 270. Nearly 20 percent of Wisconsin’s peregrine population has come from our company’s nesting sites.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

We Energies employees test augmented reality equipment

We Energies has been participating in a large-scale experiment to see how augmented reality could fit into the energy industry to enable a more efficient and safer work environment in the future. The study is sponsored by the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) and is conducted by Marquette University.
Marquette University Graduate Research Assistant, Ashley Toll
 and We Energies Plant Operator, Kevin Gyurina prepare to test equipment.
Augmented reality is a technology that overlays a user’s view of the physical world with digital objects and information. Energy company employees could use augmented reality headsets to access data, history, procedures and maps of power plants and electric distribution equipment while on site.

Over the past year, power plant operators tested wearable technology for ergonomics. The test looked at four major concerns of using this hardware for workers in the energy industry:
  • Neck and shoulder effects because of added weight to helmet 
  • Eye health 
  • Movement and balance
  • Situational awareness 
Study results may influence developers of augmented reality equipment.

We Energies Plant Operator, Eric Zakszewki wears
augmented reality gear for testing at the power plant
During a recent test of the equipment at the Elm Road Generating Station, Randy Scheck, plant central scheduler, said, “By participating in this testing, we can help advance technology and be prepared for possible future implementation.”

This EPRI study is one of many that We Energies has participated in over the past 20 years. One highlight noted by Marquette Professor Richard Marklin, who facilitates the research projects, was a study that led more electric energy companies to change from manual tools to battery-powered tools to cut cables. We Energies employees were the test subjects for that influential study.

“We Energies is really regarded as very progressive and is one of the leaders of safety and health across the industry. One piece of evidence of that is that We Energies adopted early on battery-powered tools,” said Marklin. “I sleep well at night knowing the work and studies we’ve done with We Energies have reduced the risk of injuries to workers.”

EPRI recently presented special recognition to Power Generation and Field Operations for their service to ergonomics studies.

Eric Bauman, EPRI senior technical leader and program manager, stated, “This award is presented to We Energies for over 20 years of priceless in-kind support to advance the science, engineering and practical applications of ergonomics research conducted by the Electric Power Research Institute to improve the health, safety and quality of life for the dedicated workers in the electric utility industry and their families.”

The recognition was presented to Pat Stiff, vice president – coal and biomass, and Vern Peterson, vice president – Wisconsin field operations.

“These studies really have an impact on our employees. Because of this tremendous partnership, employees are out there working safer, their careers may be longer, and they may enjoy retirement a lot more because they may be without the aches and the pains,” said Peterson.

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

National honor for company’s contributions in Puerto Rico

We’ve received special recognition for our crews’ contributions to the unprecedented power restoration effort in Puerto Rico earlier this year. Our industry trade group, the Edison Electric Institute (EEI), honored us with an Emergency Assistance Award at a ceremony in San Diego June 5.
From Left: Bill Mastoris, vice president - supply chain;
Dave Megna, vice president - Wisconsin system operations;
Kevin Fletcher, president - Wisconsin utilities; 
Kim Higginbotham, We Energies line mechanic;
Chris Fernandez, WPS lead line journeyman.
We Energies, along with our sister company Wisconsin Public Service (WPS), sent more than 70 employees to Puerto Rico in January. They joined crews from nearly 60 other electric companies in what would become our company’s longest restoration mission to date. The majority of our employees spent eight weeks restoring power in Puerto Rico.

“We could not be more proud of our employees for dedicating two months of their lives to this humanitarian mission,” said Gale Klappa, our chairman and CEO. “This was an unprecedented effort for us, sending crews and equipment outside the continental United States for the first time in our company’s history.”

Aside from the awards ceremony, EEI organized a recognition event for Puerto Rico restoration workers at a San Diego Padres game. Line workers from dozens of utilities, including We Energies’ Kim Higginbotham and WPS’ Chris Fernandez, lined the field for the first pitch.

Fernandez and Higginbotham, at far right, honored on the field at Petco Park. 
“The power restoration effort in Puerto Rico was a massive and unprecedented mission, and electric companies from across the country, including WEC Energy Group, responded to the call for help,” said EEI President Tom Kuhn. “The electric power industry pulled together with one goal in mind, to restore power to the people of Puerto Rico. It truly was one team, one mission. WEC Energy Group is deserving of this recognition for providing tremendous support to PREPA and our fellow citizens in Puerto Rico.”

A bird's-eye view at Petco Park in San Diego June 4.
On May 22, the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA) announced that power had been restored across the island to 99 percent of its customers who could receive electricity. This was a significant milestone that was reached by PREPA and its restoration partners, including the Federal Emergency Management Agency, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and its contractors, and industry mutual assistance crews.

Monday, May 21, 2018

Peregrine falcon program will continue to soar in Kenosha County, thanks to Ardent Mills

Peregrine falcons have been living at our Pleasant Prairie Power Plant for more than 20 years. In fact, the plant played a critical role in Wisconsin’s peregrine falcon recovery effort. In 1991, it became one of the first nest box sites in the state, and the following year, 15 captive-produced peregrines were released there. A total of 66 falcons have since been born at the site, more than any of our other power plant nest boxes.

Windsor, CJ, Lisa and Rimfire
Monday’s falcon banding at the now-retired power plant was bittersweet for our peregrine manager and founder of the state’s peregrine recovery effort, Greg Septon. After 22 annual banding visits to the plant, this was his last. The nest box will be closed later this summer due to the plant’s decommissioning. But Septon’s work in Kenosha County will continue, thanks to a new partner offering an alternative home to the falcons.

Earlier this spring, Pat Hicks, plant manager at Ardent Mills, was reading an article in the Kenosha News, which mentioned the need for a new nest box site. Hicks immediately thought his company, a commercial flour producer, would be a perfect match. Ardent’s Kenosha facility is just a couple miles from the power plant and more than 100 feet tall, offering the height that peregrines love. Hicks called us and offered the location for a nest box for peregrine falcons next year. 

Employee Lisa Rivera, holding the chick she named Lisa, 
with Pat Hicks, holding Windsor.
On Monday, Hicks got a first-hand look at the program he’s inheriting. He visited the power plant to see four peregrine chicks get their wildlife bands, and he even got to name one – Windsor, a reference to the hype over the recent royal wedding. Windsor, a male, joined brother Rimfire, and sisters, Lisa and CJ, for a group picture, the last falcon family photo at the plant.

The new nest box will be installed at Ardent Mills this summer. After it’s in place, the box at the power plant will be closed, forcing the resident falcons to look for a new home. The hope is they’ll easily find the new option a couple miles to the east. Septon has negotiated moves like this successfully in the past and is optimistic that at this time next year, he’ll be in Kenosha County banding chicks again – but this time at Ardent Mills.

From left: Dave Groshek (holding CJ), Lisa Rivera (holding Lisa),
Pat Hicks (holding Windsor) and Greg Septon (holding Rimfire).

Friday, May 18, 2018

Honor Flights provide an emotional experience for veterans and volunteers

Two Stars and Stripes Honor Flights on Saturday, May 5, carried 156 veterans and their guardians to Washington, D.C., to visit memorials dedicated to U.S. service members. The flights were sponsored by We Energies and included the support of employees who wrote letters and volunteered for the event.

“We are so grateful for the incredible support of WEC Energy Group employees who wrote almost 200 letters for our veterans’ mail call packages, and for the We Energies employees who were up before dawn and late into the evening assisting our veterans at the airport,” said Karyn Roelke, vice president – Stars and Stripes Honor Flight. “Several We Energies employees even spent the entire day accompanying a veteran on the flight, giving those veterans a day they will never forget.”

Saluting the veterans

The day started early as 15 We Energies volunteers arrived at General Mitchell International Airport before 4 a.m. They helped with a variety of assignments, including welcoming veterans and escorting veterans and their guardians to the gate.

We Energies volunteers at the airport on May 5.
In Washington, the veterans and guardians visited eight memorials: Vietnam Veterans Memorial, World War II Memorial, Korean War Veterans Memorial, Pentagon Memorial, Air Force Memorial, Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial, Lincoln Memorial and Tomb of the Unknown Solider, where they witnessed the changing of the guard ceremony.

“I was moved by the respect that everyone had for the veterans – thanking them for their service at every stop. What impressed me the most were the young adults and kids that recognized the veterans, shook their hands, hugged them and thanked them over and over again,” said Dave Megna, vice president – Wisconsin system operations, who was one of the guardians from We Energies.

Another guardian from We Energies, Jason Cleaver, senior IT applications consultant, added, “One moment during the trip that really showed how much the veterans were appreciated was at the Vietnam Memorial. There was a class from Mequon that formed a line, and as we walked by, all of the students, faculty and parents thanked the vets for their service.”

“It was an honor to have been the guardian for not only one, but two, female Vietnam War-era veterans,” said Erin Ganzenmuller, environmental consultant – land quality. “One served in the Navy and the other in the Air Force. Of the 156 veterans on the two Honor Flights, only three were women. As a veteran myself, it was especially humbling to accompany them on their journey.” 

Employee Erin Granzenmuller with two Vietnam War-era veterans. 
Added another guardian from We Energies, Brian Roush, outage planner/scheduler – power generation, “As a veteran myself, I was very thankful to have the opportunity to give back to our older veterans as a sign of appreciation and respect. And since the veterans I was accompanying needed a guest guardian, they were thankful for me volunteering to help them. As a result, we all said ‘thank you’ a bunch to each other.”

The veterans – the majority of whom served in Vietnam – received a heroes’ welcome upon arrival in Milwaukee with a homecoming parade in the concourse.

“I was briefed about the homecoming parade at the guardian training, so I thought I was ready. I was wrong,” Cleaver said. “When we made it past the main terminal, there was a wall of people cheering, holding banners and waving American flags.”

Friday, May 11, 2018

20 years as a Tree Line USA award-winner

We Energies earned the Tree Line USA award for the 20th consecutive year from the Arbor Day Foundation.

Tree Line USA is a national program recognizing energy companies for practices that protect and enhance America’s urban forests. This program is a collaboration of the Arbor Day Foundation and the National Association of State Foresters.

The company earned the award by meeting program standards, such as sponsoring tree-plantings and public education programs, maintaining a tree-based energy conservation program, and helping communities and citizens choose appropriate trees to plant near energy lines.

We Energies foresters with the Tree Line USA flag.
“Your commitment to proper tree-care benefits your customers in numerous ways, including providing cleaner air and water, increasing property values and improving quality-of-life. Trees also conserve energy and reduce peak demand, a crucial benefit to customers,” wrote Dan Lambe, president of the Arbor Day Foundation.

The award was presented to our forestry department by Kim Sebastian, regional urban forestry coordinator for the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.

“You are being honored for high-quality tree care. You’re inspiring others with the work you do,” said Sebastian. “The human health connection of your work with trees is a benefit to our communities.”

Visit our website to learn about tree trimming safety and conservation landscaping, and always remember to call 811 before you dig.