Thursday, January 11, 2018

Wisconsin utility crews to depart for Puerto Rico Jan. 13

Three months after Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico, more than 40 percent of residents are still in the dark. Thousands of power restoration workers from U.S. energy companies are answering the island’s need for assistance, including about 35 We Energies and 25 Wisconsin Public Service (WPS) employees. The two companies will work together to respond to the widespread loss of power in Puerto Rico. They depart for an estimated six-week assignment in the San Juan area this Saturday, Jan. 13, from General Mitchell International Airport in Milwaukee.

Supervisors from We Energies and WPS already have made the trip to the island and are preparing for crews to arrive. Vehicles and equipment from both companies were sent by barge earlier this month. Crews plan to work 12- to 16-hour days restoring power to the island.

While they face uncertainty, unfamiliar conditions and terrain, and devastation of infrastructure like they’ve never seen, the employees are excited to answer the call to service.
We Energies and WPS supervisors departed for Puerto Rico from Milwaukee on Jan. 9. 

 “An opportunity like this – to go to an island and help restore power – has never come up before,” said Craig Kahoun, operations manager – WPS, in an interview with a Green Bay news station.

While crews from We Energies and WPS responded to Hurricane Irma in Florida and Georgia last year and to other hurricanes in years past, this is the first time the companies have performed restoration efforts outside of the continental U.S.

Peter Klafka, operations supervisor – We Energies, was interviewed by a Milwaukee news station and highlighted the importance of safety while on this trip. “There’re going to be a lot of hazardous conditions we’re going to encounter down there. The crews’ safety is the most important and the biggest challenge we’re going to have to face,” he said. 

“Everything we’ll work on there – it’s devastated,” Kahoun said. “So we’re going to have a lot of reconstruction.” The hurricane caused extensive damage to electric infrastructure in Puerto Rico. Additionally, accessing areas in need of restoration is further complicated by the islands narrow streets and rugged terrain.

The crews are willing to take on all of these challenges. Chris Vanlaarhoven, a We Energies lead line mechanic in Iron Mountain, is ready to start improving conditions for the people of Puerto Rico: “It’s a good feeling on our part, and I’m sure the people will be very happy down there once we turn the power back on for them.”

Friday, January 5, 2018

Marquette University’s GasDay program helps us deliver natural gas efficiently

A cold front moves down from Canada, and heaters start humming. A holiday comes along, and businesses shut down. Many different factors can influence natural gas use on any given day. To provide you, our customers, with reliable and cost-effective service, we depend on accurate forecasts of natural gas demand.

Those forecasts are made with the help of software developed by researchers and engineers at Marquette University. Director Ronald Brown launched Marquette’s GasDay program in 1993. We Energies was one of the first companies to test the lab’s models. Now approximately 35 natural gas companies rely on GasDay software nationwide, and our natural gas controllers use it to analyze demand and guide natural gas flow on a daily basis.

The software evaluates weather and market data to provide a “point forecast,” a single number representing how much natural gas customers will need. In 2016, natural gas controllers asked the GasDay researchers if they could provide even more information. It would be helpful to see the total range of possibilities in addition to the most likely forecast.

Saber defends his Ph.D. dissertation at the GasDay Lab. 
That’s where Mohammad Saber stepped in. The doctoral student in Electrical and Computer Engineering was inspired to make probabilistic forecasting possible for GasDay. Probabilistic forecasting incorporates uncertainty in its results: How likely is it that demand will fall in this range versus that one?

This method is common in some fields, such as finance, but rarely has been used in the energy industry due to its complexity. Saber knew that if GasDay could show probabilistic results, it would present a more complete view of the risks that could lead to over- or under-supply, helping natural gas companies cut down on costs.

“It’s interesting – in everyday life, we think in probabilistic forecasting,” Saber said. “Maybe you’re thinking about how long it will take to get home from work. You don’t have any point forecasting in mind. If the traffic is heavy, you’ll leave earlier.”

But modeling probability isn’t so intuitive. When Saber chose this topic for his Ph.D. dissertation, he set out to develop not only new ways of generating probabilistic forecasts for the energy industry, but also new methods of evaluating and communicating those forecasts. He began implementing his research at the GasDay Laboratory in early 2017, and he successfully defended his dissertation in September. The next step? Incorporating it into the software we use.
Example of a probabilistic forecast predicting
the amount of natural gas needed on an hourly basis.

Saber’s research soon may support our natural gas controllers as they make cost-effective choices and plan for the uncertainties ahead. It is just one example of the ways the GasDay Lab learns from and gives back to its customers.

“We love working with our local utilities,” said Tom Quinn, GasDay business director.

We’re glad to have GasDay predictions on our side this winter – helping us provide you with reliable and affordable natural gas service.

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Employees to assist with power restoration in Puerto Rico

Employees from We Energies and our sister company, Wisconsin Public Service (WPS), soon will deploy to Puerto Rico to assist with the power restoration mission following Hurricane Maria.

About 35 We Energies employees and 25 WPS workers will depart the second week of January for an estimated four- to six-week work assignment in the San Juan area. They’ll join thousands of other power restoration workers from other U.S. energy companies answering Puerto Rico’s need for assistance.
Trucks have been loaded up for the trip to Puerto Rico.
An estimated 3.5 million Puerto Ricans were left in the dark after Hurricane Maria made a direct hit on the island in September. Three months later, an estimated 40-50 percent of residents still don’t have electricity.

Prior to our crews’ departure, trucks and equipment are being delivered to a port in Jacksonville, Florida, where they will be loaded onto a barge bound for Puerto Rico. The exact date of our crews’ departure is pending, but we’re anticipating they’ll fly out of Milwaukee on Jan. 10 or 11. We’ll post updates as their journey unfolds.

Learn more about the coordinated effort

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Scouting is a tradition at We Energies

Since 1954, We Energies has hosted the annual Merit Badge Clinic for Boy Scouts. This year’s event took place on Saturday, Dec. 9, in the We Energies Public Service Building Auditorium. The clinic brought together approximately 20 We Energies volunteers to help nearly 70 Boy Scouts ages 12 to 17 earn electricity merit badges.

We Energies also welcomed the Troops of St. George as special guests to observe the clinic.

Earning the merit badge involves taking a written test on electrical safety and terms, and demonstrating knowledge of practical skills. The Scouts study information on electricity and conduct safety audits of their homes before the clinic. They also wire circuits with lights or buzzers or build electric motors as part of independent projects. The clinic brings in energy experts to coach them the rest of the way.

We Energies employee Ted Sniegowski has volunteered at the event for over a decade and served as chairperson the past seven years. He is thankful for all the volunteers who have kept this important tradition of service alive and well. “For 64 years, We Energies volunteers have helped hundreds if not thousands of Scouts earn this coveted merit badge,” he said.

Those sentiments are echoed by Andrew Hardin with the Three Harbors Council, Boy Scouts of America based out of Milwaukee. “Since 1954, thousands of Scouts have learned the impact that electricity has on their everyday lives from experts at We Energies. This merit badge clinic has such a long history that fathers who attended the clinic as Boy Scouts in years past are now taking their Scout-age sons to the same clinic. Thanks to We Energies staff and retirees who volunteer to put on a successful event for the Boy Scouts!”

Certainly technology has changed since the clinic began in 1954, but its basis remains the same. Some families have had three generations of Scouts attend the clinic. Retired employees return to volunteer and keep the tradition going. A few volunteers have even helped at the clinic for more than 40 consecutive years.

Monday, December 11, 2017

We Energies employee rescues neighbors from house fire

On the night of Saturday, Dec. 2, We Energies employee Chris Burbey was driving home from a call in Racine. As a natural gas fitter, Burbey works with piping and appliances, ensuring the safety of customers’ homes and communities. He was not expecting any more work that night – much less a rescue operation.

As Burbey turned the corner to his subdivision, he noticed a fire in his neighbor’s backyard. It looked small, possibly contained. But to him, the risk was clear.

Chris Burbey (left) with Patty, Jamie (daughter) and Brett Filkins.
“I made a quick decision. That’s not a bonfire, that’s a house fire,” Burbey said.

He pulled over the car and jumped into action. With his company wrench and fire extinguisher in hand, he ran to shut off the flow of natural gas at the meter. He then pounded on the front door.

“Your house is on fire,” he shouted. “This is your neighbor and also the gas company. Get out!”

The residents, Brett and Patty Filkins, were asleep and unaware of the fire, which had begun at their natural gas grill and was crawling up the back of their house. When Burbey’s shouts woke them, the flames had just reached their bedroom deck.

Once they had safely left the house, Patty called 911 and Brett helped Burbey extinguish the fire. After the danger had passed, Burbey stayed with the couple until 2 a.m. to help in any way he could – speaking with the fire department, checking the furnace and water heater, and giving moral support.

“It was a traumatic event, and he went above and beyond to help us,” Patty said. “Without him, my husband and I might not be here today.”

Earlier that night, the Filkinses had cooked a pizza on the grill and accidentally left the burner on low. This small flame could have become a much more serious blaze. Investigating the scene, firefighters reported that the fire only remained outside the house due to the second pane on the kitchen window – a pane close to breaking when Burbey arrived.

“The stars and moon all aligned. It could have been a very different outcome,” Burbey said.

His quick thinking, skill and bold action made all the difference to the Filkinses. He hopes others can learn from the incident and make sure their homes and families are safe.

“Double-check the burner position,” he said. “We’re all human, and it’s easy to overlook when you’re getting pulled from all directions.”

Visit our website for more information on natural gas safety. If you smell natural gas or have a natural gas emergency, leave the building immediately and call our 24/7 emergency line at 800-261-5325 from another location.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Safety is main concern after hot air balloon becomes entangled in power lines

Early on the morning of Sunday, Dec. 3, a hot air balloon came in contact with power lines in Appleton. Riders in the basket of the balloon stayed put until We Energies arrived on the scene to de-energize the wires.

Thankfully, no one was hurt. The situation, however, was quite dangerous. “This is probably the oddest I’ve seen because there were people involved,” said employee Jeff Ortscheid. He’s pulled everything from trampolines to metal shed roofs from power lines, but the nervous passengers in the basket made this a trickier situation.

When Ortscheid got the call, his first thought and focus was getting people out safe. He, like nearly all electric utility troubleshooters, has responded to car/pole accidents where the lines remain energized, so he first de-energized the line, cutting power to four nearby customers so that the passengers could exit the balloon safely. Once the passengers were safe, the balloon itself was able to be removed from the power lines.

“It was heavy!” he said, noting that hot air balloons have lots of ropes and lines that make a downed balloon harder to maneuver. He waited for a co-worker to arrive at the scene before taking the balloon down. “We were glad to just get everyone in the clear.”

The passengers did the right thing by staying in the basket until help arrived. Their story is a good reminder of how dangerous an energized line can be, and how to react safely when a vehicle, be it a car or a hot air balloon, comes into contact with energized equipment.

If your vehicle contacts a power line, stay inside until rescue workers say it is safe to leave. If you must leave your vehicle because of fire or other danger, jump away from the vehicle so that you do not touch the vehicle and the ground at the same time. Land with your feet together and shuffle away.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

We Energies sponsors annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. speech contest

On Saturday, Dec. 2, students gathered at the We Energies Public Service Building to give inspiring speeches to family, friends, teachers and a panel of judges. This year marks the third decade that We Energies has sponsored the speech contest. Company employees are happy to assist, with many volunteering year after year. This year these employee volunteers included Freddie Keith, Michelle Waters, Mekisha Linton, Marina Sanchez, Monique Jones and Karen Ryan.

K-2 finalists.
This year’s theme, “Take a stand for truth and justice,” comes from a sermon Dr. King preached in Montgomery, Alabama, on Nov. 6, 1956, just seven days before the U.S. Supreme Court ruled against Alabama’s bus segregation laws. Dr. King stated,

 “… dare to take a stand for justice. Honesty impels me to admit that such a stand will require willingness to suffer and sacrifice. So don’t despair if you are condemned and persecuted for righteousness’ sake. Whenever you take a stand for truth and justice, you are liable to scorn. Often you will be called an impractical idealist or a dangerous radical. Sometimes it might mean going to jail.”

Students from Milwaukee public, private, charter and home schools embraced this theme in the writing and delivery of their four-minute speeches.

Grade 11-12 finalists.
Finalists of Saturday’s speech contest are listed below. All first-place winners will give their speech at the citywide celebration of Dr. King’s life and legacy to be held Jan. 14, 2018, at the Marcus Center for the Performing Arts. Winners of the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. art and writing contests also will be honored at the Jan. 14 event.

Grade K-2
1st place – Zadayne Miller, Milwaukee Parkside School of the Arts
2nd place – Josiah Franklin, Elm Creative Arts Elementary School
3rd place – Inezmari Chico, Curtin Leadership Academy

Grade 3-4
1st place – Amir Johnikin, Elm Creative Arts Elementary School
2nd place – Benji Johnston, Eastbrook Academy
3rd place – Salma Lewis, Golda Meir Lower Campus

Grade 5-6
1st place – Chloe Reader, Alcott School
2nd place – Katelen Pickens, Emerson School
3rd place – Kaylie Deluna, Victory Elementary School

Grade 7-8
1st place – Amillia Bell, Golda Meir Upper Campus
2nd place – Terynn Erby-Walker, Golda Meir Lower Campus
3rd place – Demi Figueroa, Curtin Leadership Academy

Grade 9-10
1st place – Ameen Atta, Salam High School
2nd place – Akili Pleas-Carnie, Rufus King International Baccalaureate High School
3rd place – Marvell Reed, Barack Obama School of Career and Technical Education

Grade 11-12
1st place – Ariana Cawthorn, Eastbrook Academy
2nd place – Daniel Montalvo, Reagan International Baccalaureate High School 
3rd place – Biluge Ntabala, Milwaukee High School of the Arts