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: Employee Dave Groshek (holding CJ), Lisa Rivera (holding Lisa),
Pat Hicks of Ardent Mills (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.

Friday, May 4, 2018

Falcon chicks have arrived!

Baby falcons have arrived at four of our power plant nest boxes. Fluffy white chicks are visible on the webcams at our Pleasant Prairie, Oak Creek, Port Washington and Valley Power Plant sites.


Here’s a progress report from each site:
  • Valley Power Plant, Milwaukee: Three out of four eggs have hatched 
  • Pleasant Prairie Power Plant: All four eggs have hatched 
  • Port Washington Generating Station: Two out of five eggs have hatched 
  • Oak Creek Power Plant: Two out of three have hatched 
  • Presque Isle Power Plant, Marquette, Michigan: Four eggs present 
If every egg hatches, it will be a banner year for We Energies’ peregrine falcon program with 20 chicks. That would put the company’s total at well over 250 since 1997. Here's a link to our webcams: www.we-energies.com/falcons.

Peregrine falcons remain listed as endangered in Wisconsin after their near extinction from widespread pesticide use in the 1960s. Today, Wisconsin has more than 30 successful nesting sites across the state.

Friday, April 20, 2018

We Energies protects wood turtles

Sunday, April 22, is Earth Day, and we’re celebrating by highlighting some of our environmental initiatives.

Sometimes, we encounter threatened and endangered species during our construction projects. The projects could include building a new natural gas line or installing new power lines. We need to be aware of the animals in our project zones.

Wood turtles are listed as a threatened species in Wisconsin. They prefer to nest in sand banks near rivers and streams, but they also are known to nest along roadsides, fields and gravel pits.

When we have a project that has the potential to disturb wood turtle habitat, we collaborate with the Department of Natural Resources to ensure we are taking all appropriate measures to avoid any impacts to the habitats. These measures include conducting surveys in advance of our projects to ensure our equipment will not come in contact with the turtles. We also have installed exclusion fencing to prevent the turtles from entering our work zones, and we directionally drill to bore underneath turtle habitat to prevent disruption.

As part of our protection and conservation of wood turtles, we assist Turtles For Tomorrow, a conservation program dedicated to habitat management and landowner education about rare reptiles and amphibians in Wisconsin. We have assisted with restoration of several nest sites near our hydroelectric facilities, as well as provided funding for a camera-monitoring and site-management project that will aid in monitoring nest predation, vandalism and hatching success.


Saving Karner blue butterflies

Wisconsin is home to the largest remaining population of Karner blue butterflies in the world. They are a federally endangered species due to their loss of habitat.

We Energies worked with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources to develop and implement the Karner Blue Butterfly Habitat Conservation Plan (HCP). This plan establishes a formal working process to conduct business operations for constructing and maintaining utility lines while maintaining, restoring and creating habitats for the Karner blues.

The HCP is unique in the country. From a utility standpoint, much of the work that occurs along utility corridors results in temporary disturbances to the Karner blue’s natural habitat.

Wild lupine is a perennial plant in the pea family with beautiful pink and blue flowers. This plant is essential to the survival of Karner blues, as it is the only food they eat as larvae. Without lupine, Karner blues are incapable of reproducing. Utility construction and maintenance projects remove brush along corridors, allowing lupine to grow and thrive.

The Karner Blue Butterfly HCP is working so well that it is now focused on recovery of the Karner blue butterfly population in Wisconsin. Ultimately, the goal is to reduce the listed status of the species to “threatened,” or even delisted from federal protected status altogether.

In 2015, We Energies restored more than 50 acres of habitat in the heart of the Karner blue range during the construction of the West-Central Lateral, a natural gas pipeline in Western Wisconsin. Early monitoring and management of this area is indicating restoration is a success. Karner blues have been documented to be thriving in the restored habitat in just a couple of years following initial restoration.

Bald eagle and osprey recovery continues in Wisconsin

For decades, We Energies has supported the recovery of bald eagle and osprey populations. These raptor species once thrived in the Midwest, but DDT use and habitat loss led to dramatic population declines between the 1950s and 1970s. Wisconsin’s Department of Natural Resources (DNR) has watched their development over the last four decades. In 2016, the DNR recorded the highest number of nesting sites since monitoring began in 1973.

We Energies employees assist with
an eagle banding in May 2016. 
The DNR’s 2016 aerial survey results showed 1,504 occupied bald eagle nests, 39 more than in 2015, and 558 occupied osprey nests, 16 more than in 2015. To put this further in perspective, the 1973 survey recorded only 108 eagle and 92 osprey nests.

“The comeback of our great raptors since their near-demise just over 50 years ago is truly remarkable,” said Mike Grisar, principal environmental consultant at We Energies. “Without the hard work of the resource managers and the aid of utility companies, the recovery of these species would certainly not have been so successful.”

Utilities have a major role to play in raptor conservation due to the species’ nesting habits. Bald eagles and ospreys both tend to build their large nests in the tallest trees available – or, on occasion, the tallest utility poles, which can result in power outages and harm to the birds.

We have worked with the DNR and environmental nonprofits since the early 1980s to help raptor populations recover. Our Bald Eagle Protection Plan prevents disturbances to nesting eagles, preserves canopy trees for future nesting sites and offers public financial incentive to report raptor nests on company lands. When we discover an occupied nest near a project site, we evaluate each situation and develop a strategy to avoid impacting active nests.


Our field crews also erect nesting platforms for raptors, primarily osprey. As these raptor diets rely heavily on fish, the platforms are typically raised near water. They stand taller than any manmade structures in the area, encouraging raptors to choose them in favor of utility poles, and they expand nesting opportunities in wetlands, along lakeshores and in other areas with limited mature tree growth. Company crews have installed nest platforms in nearly 30 Wisconsin and Michigan counties across our electric service areas. We collaborate with environmental and wildlife agencies to monitor raptor activity and attach leg bands for conservation research.

Grisar has helped coordinate company efforts for raptor recovery since the mid-2000s, and he has seen their numbers rise almost every year. He is optimistic about their future in Wisconsin and Michigan.

“It is an honor to work for a utility company that has such commitment to environmental stewardship, and it is humbling to know we have made such a difference,” Grisar said.
We are dedicated to keeping our customers and local wildlife safe. With nests weighing up to 200 pounds, eagles and ospreys can damage power lines and cause arcing, power outages and nest fires. If you see a raptor building a nest on a live power line or utility pole, please contact our 24-hour customer service at 800-242-9317.