Friday, January 13, 2017

Safe slumber: Don’t take risks with your electric blanket

Colder weather lends itself to cozier beds, with warm pajamas, flannel sheets and heavy comforters combining to make the perfect winter refuge. For some people, that means adding an electric blanket, too. If that includes you, keep these tips from the Electric Blanket Institute in mind:
  • Make sure your electric blanket lies flat. Don’t bunch it, fold it or let it get balled up between the mattress and footboard, and don’t tuck it in. Heat could get trapped and damage the heating elements.
  • Protect the wires and cords from getting pinched. Don’t use electric blankets with adjustable beds, Murphy beds, pull-out sofas or recliners, where the heating elements can get caught and damaged.
  • Don’t use an electric blanket and a heated mattress pad at the same time. It can lead to overheating.
  • Don’t run cords between the mattress and box spring.
  • Keep pets away from electric blankets. Their teeth and claws can puncture wire insulation and damage the wires.

Also be sure to keep your electric blanket on top of your bedding. Don’t cover it with other blankets, pillows or stuffed animals when it’s on. Don’t lie on it, and don’t let your pets lie on it either. Turn blankets off when not in use.

Have you had your blanket for a while? Consider replacing it, especially if it’s older than 10 years. According to the Electrical Safety Foundation International (ESFI), heated pads and electric blankets cause almost 500 fires each year – most of which involve electric blankets that are more than 10 years old. And remember, infants, young children, older adults, and paralyzed or heat-insensitive individuals should never use an electric blanket.

One extra safe sleeping suggestion: Don’t tuck electronics of any kind under your pillow. They can overheat there and start a fire. Set them on the nightstand or a nearby dresser instead.

The Electric Blanket Institute and ESFI have more tips on electric blanket safety, and our website has more energy safety tips.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Partnership with UW-Milwaukee helps us prepare for storms

“From the Innovative Weather Center at UW-Milwaukee, I’m Mackenzie Nuthals...”

You may have heard this introduction by UW-Milwaukee atmospheric science students providing the weather forecasts on WUWM radio. These interns not only are learning to provide forecasts for media but also how to provide forecasts for companies such as We Energies.

“On a daily basis, they provide a regular weather outlook of what we can expect: wind speeds, temps and potential lightning, anything that might impact our system,” said Duane Miller, manager – gas and electric operations at We Energies.

Their forecasts help us prepare and plan for what our customers and crews may face when a weather system moves in. This year’s interns recently toured our Pewaukee operations center where they learned how we use their forecasts.

Mike Westendorf, director of operations at Innovative Weather, had a vision when he began his partnership with us several years ago.

”We Energies wanted to have an entity that could interpret the weather and see it through their eyes. Since that time, We Energies has been our best and longest partner in this,” said Westendorf.

He explains that there’s a training component to the program offered by clients such as We Energies to help students grow into more confident forecasters.

Alli Keclik, Innovative Weather intern, said, “We are trying the best we can, so We Energies can do the best for its customers.”

Keclik is one of those confident forecasters. She says that she grew up loving the weather, which led her to study meteorology. She recently received her M.S. in atmospheric science degree. Her experience at Innovative Weather helped her get a job at the National Weather Service.

“This is definitely going to help me when I go out to the National Weather Service and will continue to help me in the future,” she said.

Westendorf echoes that sentiment, saying that UW-Milwaukee wants to train and educate young people to be productive members of their communities.

“What I love about this program is that We Energies is providing an opportunity for them to grow and to have skills that will make the students not only employable but also potential leaders wherever they go in the future,” he said.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

From employees’ heroic acts to canine safety ambassadors, 2016 a banner year

It’s been a busy year at We Energies. As we get ready to ring in 2017, we thought we’d take a look back at 2016. 

Our employees never hesitated to go above and beyond in the field. One of our troubleshooters saved a choking woman by performing CPR. Another found a loaded gun on the street and handed it over to Milwaukee Police. And there was a cute kitten who needed rescuing from atop a utility junction box in Kenosha.

Man’s best friend helped spread our safety messages on several occasions. Abby the “super dog” alerted her family about a carbon monoxide leak. Job, a Lhasa mix, warned his owners about a natural gas leak. And the dynamic duo of Darby and Boca won our Safe Digging contest to help promote calling 811 before digging.

Customers got good news about their bills. In May, we reported that residential customer bills were the lowest in more than a decade.

This fall, we were honored to accept two national awards for outstanding reliability. Hearing our customers echo that sentiment made us even prouder.

And we closed out the year with a record-setting Cookie Book distribution at Miller Park where we handed out more than 26,000 books!

Watch this video for more 2016 highlights: 

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Customer calls employee’s good deed “a Christmas miracle”

Gas seasonal inspector Jason Feucht was driving to a job in Oconto County last week when he saw a disabled man shoveling snow. The man had climbed out of his motorized wheelchair and was trying to shovel deep snow at the end of his driveway.

Tom Pienta
Feucht pulled over and asked if the man needed help. Tom Pienta said, yes, he could use a helping hand. 

“It was wonderful,” Pienta later said. “A Christmas miracle.”

Pienta was trying to shovel a path for his scooter to get to his mailbox. Feucht didn’t just shovel a path. He cleared the entire end of the driveway and retrieved Pienta’s mail, too.

“I just did something any one of us would do,” said Feucht.

Pienta was so pleased, he posted a thank-you note on his Facebook page. Pienta’s children went a step further, emailing the company to thank Feucht.

Gas seasonal inspector Jason Feucht
“It’s so nice and refreshing that someone takes the time to offer a helping hand,” said Pienta’s daughter, Rachelle, who lives in Ohio and learned about the incident afterward. “It makes me happy to know someone was there to help.”

During his short visit, Feucht learned that Pienta is a veteran. Feucht says he made sure to thank Pienta for his service to our country.

“The inspiration is really Pienta, to see him out there trying to shovel,” said Feucht. “I was just glad to be in the right place at the right time to help.”

Monday, December 19, 2016

How to stay safe with space heaters

Winter has arrived in full force. Temperatures and snow have fallen, daylight is decreasing, and your furnace is working more often.

Portable space heaters can be convenient for single-room use when central heating is inadequate or costly, but they involve some risk. If you plan to use a space heater, make sure to follow these safety guidelines.

The primary dangers to keep in mind are fire ignition and improper venting. According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, space heaters cause approximately 25,000 residential fires each year.

To reduce this risk: 
  •  Only purchase newer models with current safety features, including a switch that automatically shuts off the unit if it tips over. 
  •  Place the heater on a level surface away from foot traffic and out of reach of young children and pets. 
  •  Avoid using extension cords, and don’t overload circuits. 
  •  Blankets, furniture, drapes and other combustible materials should be kept at least six feet away.

Only electric space heaters can function safely without venting. As combustion heaters run on propane, natural gas or kerosene, they produce gases – including carbon monoxide and nitrogen oxides – that can cause harm if not vented outside the home. When using a combustion space heater:
  •  Make sure to follow the manufacturer’s instructions upon installation, and supply only the approved fuel – never gasoline. 
  • Choose a model with an oxygen-depletion sensor to shut off operation if dangerous carbon monoxide levels rise.
  • Examine the heater regularly for blockages around the vents, rust and corrosion, which could lead to the buildup of gases. The U.S. Department of Energy recommends a yearly professional inspection.

These policies will help you enjoy a warm and healthy home through the winter. Your savings from using a space heater will depend on room size and insulation as well as temperature settings. Find more ways to reduce heating costs on our website.

Friday, December 16, 2016

Why we ask you to keep your meter clear of ice and snow

We Energies, like all electric and natural gas utilities in places where the temperature can drop below freezing, asks you to keep your meter clear of snow and ice. Heavy snow or falling icicles can cause damage to your meter and put you in danger. We ask you to mind your meter for your own safety inside and outside of your home.

Prevent gas leaks
The pressure caused by snow or ice can damage piping and cause a gas meter to leak. A leak is not only dangerous, it can interrupt service to you and your neighbors.

Provide easy access
In case of an emergency, our technician might need quick and uninterrupted access to your gas or electric meter. By always keeping it clear, you’re keeping yourself and your community safe.

Protect equipment
While they are built to withstand the elements, gas and electric meters can be damaged if ice and snow become frozen to them. This can lead to more frequent and costly replacements.   

Snow removal tips
  • Be aware of your meter’s location when using a snow blower or plow.
  • Never shovel snow against or on top of your meter or a vent.
  • Use a broom or your hands to remove snow and ice from the meter rather than a shovel, salt or ice-melting chemical.
  • Never kick your meter to break up snow and ice.
  • Protect your meter from melting ice dripping from overhead.
  • If you think you smell natural gas, move to a safe distance away and call us at 800-261-5325.

Monday, December 12, 2016

Boy Scout Merit Badge Clinic encourages exploration

A Boy Scout works with a volunteer
in the Public Service Building 
auditorium 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. 10, in the We Energies Public Service Building Auditorium. The clinic brought together approximately 20 We Energies volunteers to help 50 Boy Scouts ages 12-17 earn electricity merit badges.

Earning a 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.

“The scouts walk out qualified for their merit badge by noon,” said Ted Sniegowski, an operations manager at Port Washington Generating Station. Sniegowski has chaired the event for the past ten years. “The clinic helps them achieve skills that aren’t taught in schools anymore, and it opens their eyes to a career in energy.”

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.

Junior Girl Scouts from Troop 8295 at Merit Badge Clinic.
This year marks the beginning of what might become a new tradition: involving Girl Scouts. Sniegowski was approached by Jennifer Rios, sourcing support specialist – finance and a Girl Scout leader, who asked if she might bring a group of interested Girl Scouts to observe. “We jumped at the opportunity and said absolutely,” Sniegowski said.

The Junior Girl Scouts of Troop 8295 are fourth-graders on their “Get Moving” Journey, a project about energy and how it is used, produced and conserved. The Girl Scouts conduct energy audits of their homes and buildings in their communities and interview power-use experts. “The journey culminates with a project to help educate others in our school on the importance of energy and conservation,” Rios said.

Sniegowski is pro-scouting for both boys and girls. He became involved in scouting as an adult through this clinic at We Energies about ten years ago. “Scouting overall encourages exploration in things kids wouldn’t see every day,” he said. “It gives them an opportunity to ask questions and to do things they wouldn’t even think of if it weren’t for scouting.”

Boy Scouts qualified for their electricity merit badges.
Sniegowski hopes to get the Girl Scouts more involved in the years to come, and keep the tradition of the Merit Badge Clinic alive for further generations.