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.


Keep natural gas meters, vents clear of snow, ice

Remember to safely remove snow and ice from your furnace vents and natural gas meters. Use caution when shoveling, snow blowing or plowing near natural gas meters to prevent damage and potential gas leaks.

To avoid meter problems:

- Keep meters clear of snow and ice; make sure snow isn't covering meter.

- Always shovel away from meter.

- Take care when using snow thrower or plow near meter. 

- Use a broom to clear snow and ice from equipment.

- Avoid kicking or hitting meter to break away built-up snow or ice.

- Remove icicles that may drip water onto meter.

Keeping furnace intake and exhaust vents clear of snow and ice is an important safety precaution to prevent build up of carbon monoxide inside homes and buildings. A blocked vent also can affect the performance of the furnace, which may not run properly or at all when the intake or exhaust vent is blocked.

As for natural gas meters, you may not think about that often, but we ask that you keep your meter clear of snow and ice for safety.

Accumulated snow and ice place stress on meter piping, which can damage equipment and cause a gas leak. Keeping the meter clear also allows our employees to properly service the meter in case of emergency and keeps it visible to snowplows when those meters are in close proximity to alleys or other areas subject to plowing.


Friday, December 9, 2016

We Energies sponsors Martin Luther King Jr. speech contest

“We shall overcome, we shall overcome, but what are we overcoming?” asked Maurice Willis, a student at Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. School and winner of the third and fourth grade division at the 33rd annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. speech contest.

He proceeded to outline challenges he sees in his community: “I know my neighborhood is not the greatest. But I know with education and determination I can make it a better place for the next generation of youth to come!”

His speech was one of 30 student speeches delivered on Dec. 3 in the Public Service Building auditorium at We Energies on the theme “We shall overcome.” Dr. King’s most notable use of “We shall overcome” was in his acceptance speech for the Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo, Norway, Dec. 10.

Portia Young of Sargento Foods was the guest emcee, introducing students in kindergarten through grade 12 who spoke on the theme. Their families, friends and teachers gathered in the auditorium to hear them present. First-, second- and third-place medals were awarded in each grade category.

Imajyne Robertson-Hodges won her division, kindergarten through second grade. She is a second-grader at Elm Creative Arts School. “My art teacher signed me up for this because she knew I could do it,” she said. “My family is so happy, and my art teacher is too! It’s a whole big thing for me!”

Imajyne Robertson-Hodges, winner of the grade K-2 division.
From the youngest to the oldest, students tackled big issues. Racism, prejudice and violence were noted as some of the main problems students strived to overcome, both globally and in their communities. While some students were specific in combatting issues, others spoke more broadly. Many students did their research and cited statistics. Others quoted famous leaders, especially Dr. King. 

“We have to learn to overcome our own issues before we take on the world,” said Maranda Brown, a senior at Eastbrook Academy, in her impassioned speech that won the 11th-12th grade division.

“When I gave my speech today, I gave it from my heart,” said Brown. “It wasn’t about the accolades or the praise or anything like that. It was telling my story and trying to get a message through: here’s my story, and here’s how you can overcome. I hope the listeners felt and heard and took heed to the words I had to say.”

Willis, Robertson-Hodges, Brown and the other students who won their divisions will give their speeches and receive awards at the 33rd Annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Birthday Celebration at the Marcus Center for the Performing Arts in Milwaukee on Jan. 15, 2017.

Eastbrook Academy had four winners: At top left, Maranda Brown,
first in grade 11-12 division; Ariana Cawthorn, second in grade 9-10
division. Front left, Benji Johnston, second in grade 3-4 division;
Praise Ayodabo, third in grade K-2 division.


















Finalists in grade 3-4 division from left, Jordan Cameron, Hawthorne Elementary, third place; Benji Johnston, Eastbrook Academy, second place; Maurice Willis, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. School, first place; Elizabeth Roque-Frias, Grant School; Desiree Morris, Emerson Elementary.  



Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Much-needed service dog provided to employee family

For the first time in its history, the We Energies Employes’ Mutual Benefit Association (EMBA) provided a service dog: specifically a long-haired German shepherd named Stryker to a deserving Army veteran, who is also the wife of a We Energies employee. Historically, this group has assisted employees who are sick or injured, helping them focus on recovery and return more quickly to their normal lives.

Katie Stemen, Stryker and Andrew Stemen.
Stryker is no ordinary canine. He has been specially trained to be a service dog providing companionship and aided mobility to U.S. Army veteran Katie Stemen, wife of Andrew Stemen, an employee at the We Energies’ Presque Isle Power Plant in Marquette, Michigan. Katie’s multiple tours in Afghanistan and Iraq left her with serious health issues. She hoped the best solution to help her with the mental and physical strains of life after the military would be a service dog. But they are expensive to train, and there’s a waiting list to get one. 

Dogs like Stryker can provide life-changing assistance to veterans like Katie. If a cane is dropped, the dog could fetch it. If her balance is lost, he could help keep her upright. If she experiences anxiety and fear in public, having a dog at her side would ease her mind. Andrew – who served in the National Guard– noted the importance of having a “battle buddy.” Andrew explained that in the Army, a soldier always has another soldier as a battle buddy. He thinks that many veterans face losing that sense of security and team mentality when they return home. For a veteran, he said, “a dog helps fill the role of a battle buddy.”

Katie found a trainer in Michigan, Ron Monroe, a former canine officer with the Military Police Corps. He offers a reduced rate to train service dogs for veterans. Monroe’s work is inspired by the difference a service dog makes in the life of a veteran. “The confidence and security a veteran gains from having a German shepherd dog at their side gives them the gift of being more comfortable in public situations,” Monroe said. “It gives them their independence.”

According to Monroe, service dog training is a growing industry and an important element of welcoming veterans home. “Society is realizing one way we can give back to our veterans is to accommodate them with their animals. And the public appreciates seeing a good team work
together.”
Stryker
It was through Monroe that Katie met her service dog. His name was initially Ryker, but Katie asked his name be changed to Stryker after the armored vehicles she operated from while on duty. Katie and Stryker were an immediate match. But the cost of a service dog, even at a reduced rate, was too high for the family. This was where Andrew’s boss, Scott Gygi, a supervisor at the power plant, contacted the EMBA. He had positive experiences with the organization previously, and hoped they might be able to help the Stemens. “Scott was the driving force,” said Andrew. “He got the wheels in motion.”

The EMBA received the request for assistance and it was granted. The committee, made up of We Energies employees, agreed to cover the cost of Stryker’s training. As a fraternal benefit society, the EMBA Emergency Fund operates much like a nonprofit, only one that is based completely on the generosity of employee donations. Andrew has seen the good it is doing for his own family and his work community. “It’s great to see the money you donate come back to the employees locally,” he said.

The EMBA is governed by the state of Wisconsin’s Office of the Commissioner of Insurance and is licensed to do business in Wisconsin and Michigan. It currently has 15 chapters that each elect a director along with six company-appointed directors to comprise its board. The organization dates back to 1912, when its original purpose was to provide benefits and medical care to employees and their families.

The emergency fund started not long after to assist employees who fell on hard times. “Things happen,” EMBA Secretary Joe Kopinski said. “You’ll never know when they’ll happen, and that fund is there when they do. It’s a really neat thing and a really proud thing for me to be able to deliver a check to someone in need and see the relief that comes when the financial burden is taken off their shoulders.”

Andrew echoes that desire for normalcy. He and Katie hope having a service dog will help and they are looking forward to that. “The EMBA is helping us out big time,” said Andrew. “It takes a big burden off of us, and it’s made the experience much more enjoyable and easier to do, and we are very grateful for that.”

Stryker and Katie during the 
training process.
Learn more about trainer Ron Monroe on Facebook: Max's K9 Obedience.

Friday, December 2, 2016

Prepare your home for winter: foam insulators

Do the light switches and electrical outlets on your outer walls feel cool? Even worse, can you feel cold air flowing in? Stop the heat leaks with foam insulators. Packs are available for less than $5 at most home improvement and hardware stores, and they install in six easy steps.
  • Go to circuit breaker box and turn off breaker for switch or outlet.
  • Remove switch or outlet plate.
  • Use circuit or voltage tester to be sure power is off.
  • Remove pre-cut inserts from gasket and press gasket over switch or outlet.
  • Replace plate.
  • Turn breaker on.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Prepare your home for winter: window insulation

Window insulation. Insulation film. Shrink wrap. Whatever you call it, you’ve no doubt seen windows each winter with added layers of plastic film. That’s because, as thin and transparent as they are, the window insulation kits work. Best of all, they’re easy and inexpensive to install. Many kits sell for around $15 and some for less than $5.

Once you get the kit home:
  • Apply tape around window frame.
  • Peel off tape liner to expose adhesive.
  • Unfold plastic and cut to size, leaving an extra 2 inches on all sides.
  • Press plastic firmly to tape, starting at top of window.
  • Use hairdryer on hottest setting to tighten plastic and remove all wrinkles and creases. Hold hairdryer a few inches away from plastic and move it back and forth. Don’t touch plastic with hairdryer. 


In spring, heat the tape with the hairdryer to loosen the adhesive, then slowly peel off the insulation and adhesive.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Prepare your home for winter: weatherstripping

Spaces around windows and doors can be big culprits of drafty, cold air. That’s where weatherstripping comes in. It fills the gaps and creates a tighter seal. Rolls start at just a few dollars at most home improvement and hardware stores and are easy to install.


Installation tips 

  • Look for gaps and feel for drafts around windows and doors.
  • Clean areas where self-adhesive weatherstripping will be installed.
  • Measure space, then measure weatherstripping and cut to length.
  • Apply weatherstripping along edge.
Once you close the window or door, you should have a nice, tight seal.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Saving energy in the kitchen

From roasts browning in the oven to sauces bubbling on the stovetop, homemade dishes feature proudly during the holidays. As the weather grows colder and families gather, you might find yourself spending more time – and using more energy – in the kitchen. These cooking tips will help you enjoy holiday feasts without compromising on energy efficiency.

Be prepared

Slice your vegetables and meats, measure out your spices and mix your ingredients before you turn on the oven or range. If everything is ready to go, you will avoid long gaps between cooking steps and make good use of your heat.

Thawing frozen foods is important. If you cover that Thanksgiving turkey and leave it in the refrigerator for a few days (approximately 24 hours for every 4 pounds), you’ll reduce the work your oven needs to do, and the cold turkey will make the fridge more efficient.

Wasted space means wasted energy

When you fill your refrigerator and freezer, you actually improve efficiency – to an extent. Empty fridges and freezers lose cold air more quickly when opened. If you cram items in without leaving room for circulation, however, their cooling systems will have to work harder.

This tip also applies to the cooking process. When you sear a small portion in a large pan, you’re heating empty surface area. Try to scale your cookware to fit your recipes. On an electric range, match the sizes of your burners and pans to ensure even and efficient heating. A 6-inch pan on an 8-inch burner can waste more than 40 percent of the expended energy. Consider alternatives to full oven use if you only need it to prepare a single dish – toaster ovens, slow cookers and microwaves require less energy and can work well for many types of food.

Make best use of your oven


Dinners often call for the full oven. In those cases, familiarity with its features can save you money. If convection heating is available, use it, as circulating hot air is more efficient than radiating heat. Check your dishes with the oven window and light when possible instead of opening the door, which can cause temperatures to drop as much as 25 degrees.

An oven thermometer is a great tool to improve both your cooking and your energy savings. Many ovens operate at temperatures other than their settings, and this knowledge will help you adjust cooking times to match. Accurate timing will let you turn off the oven several minutes before the food is done, so the remaining heat can finish the job.

Enjoy leftovers

Preparing enough food for future meals is one of the best ways to improve kitchen efficiency. Just make sure to cover the leftovers and let them cool before you put them in the refrigerator.

More ways to save energy and money around the home

Monday, November 21, 2016

Cooking with We Energies: Holiday meals made easier throughout the decades

Making a holiday meal was much more time intensive at the turn of the 20th century. Many ovens were wood- or coal-burning units without knobs to adjust the heat. Refrigeration was handled by an icebox. There were no microwaves. In fact, approximately nine out of 10 American homes didn’t yet have electricity.

But as more homes became wired, the early predecessor of We Energies – The Milwaukee Electric Railway and Light Co. – provided assistance with live electric cooking demonstrations at the Public Service Building in downtown Milwaukee. There, attendees could browse the latest in appliances at the company’s retail store while learning new and easier ways to prepare family favorites. It didn’t matter that the first electric “stoves” were nothing more than six-inch hot plates … they, along with electric toasters and percolators, gave families the flexibility – and novelty – of cooking at their dining room tables.

Mary Modern: In the 1950s, Mary Modern used the airwaves
to help local television viewers in “making home life better 
electrically.”'
With the advent of television a few decades later, holiday hosts and hostesses had only to turn the dial to catch a live demonstration from Mary Modern, sponsored by We Energies predecessor Wisconsin Electric on local airwaves. For five minutes each weekday in the mid-1950s, “Electrical Living – with Mary Modern” aired, sharing cooking and entertainment tips “for making home life better electrically.”

“Lecture-demonstrations in cookery” were offered throughout many of those same early- and mid-1900s decades by the Home Services Department of Milwaukee Gas Light Co. (which later became a subsidiary of We Energies as the Wisconsin Gas Co.). In addition to gas cooking and canning demonstrations held each week, on-staff home economists helped plan “attractive party menus” while operators answered hotline calls on all things related to cooking and preserving food. Together, they provided ready resources long before Martha Stewart, Google and Food Network were available to help – and some of their advice holds true today:
  • Determine your menu ahead of time. A simple menu, well prepared and attractively served, is key.
  •  Select familiar recipes. Don’t experiment when you entertain.
  • Above all else (as the company’s “Book of Etiquette and Table Setting” declared), “The secret of success is in careful planning – the trick is in the organization and timing!”
Interested in recipes from decades past? Check out the We Energies Cookie Book archive, with nearly all previous editions of the book dating back to 1932.

Friday, November 18, 2016

Employees give back to students at Junior Achievement's BizTown

On a sunny November morning, 13 We Energies employees headed to BizTown, Junior Achievement’s interactive simulated town. The volunteers helped to educate fourth- through sixth-graders from Franklin Pierce School and O.W. Holmes School, both public elementary schools in Milwaukee.

We Energies employees volunteer at Junior Achievement's 
BizTown.
“We wanted to help give students a good understanding of how the community works,” said Phyllis Koleske, manager – revenue and gas accounting. She has been coordinating We Energies’ involvement at Junior Achievement for the past three years.

In BizTown, students learn about personal finance, jobs and community life. We Energies employees were there for support as students held all BizTown positions including CEO, CFO, mayor, reporter, radio DJ, retail employee, bank teller and even utility worker. They were “paid” for doing their jobs and learned to deposit their paychecks at the two BizTown banks.

The students also learned about the forms of payment the businesses accepted. A scaled-down Culvers, for example, sold popcorn and soda but only accepted cash. Kohl’s and Harley-Davidson provided souvenirs and accepted credit cards, debit cards and checks. Navigating banking and forms of payment and budgeting was part of the experience.

We Energies employees were assigned to these BizTown businesses. Gloria Grabarczyk, manager – gas cost accounting, took on a new role at Biztown’s U.S. Bank. She chose to volunteer with Junior Achievement to get to work with children, “especially in an environment like this where you’re educating them about real life.” She added, “They’re looking forward to it. It’s not a matter of stopping them from talking to the other kids. … They’re into their jobs and they’re so excited.”

Jerri Nash is an office assistant at Valley Power Plant, but in BizTown she was assigned to City Hall. “I think it’s a great program,” she said, “and I appreciate the opportunity to be involved.”

A student named Kevin, who was the CFO at Chase Bank, noted his favorite part of being CFO was signing checks. Fifth graders Miracle and Antonio – both photographers for the BizTown newspaper – learned the importance of teamwork when working with the camera and the clipboard. “We take turns,” Miracle explained. “And it’s fun! We get to be adults.”


Thursday, November 17, 2016

Customers are real winners as We Energies is honored again for outstanding reliability

We’re honored to be recognized once again as the most reliable utility in the Midwest. This is the sixth year in a row We Energies has received the PA Consulting Group’s ReliabilityOneTM Award.

Hearing our customers echo that sentiment makes us even prouder.



For our industrial customers, including Aavid Allcast in Allenton, Wisconsin, reliable electric service is an absolute necessity. As plant manager John Cleary points out, the aluminum die casting company’s production would come to a halt without reliable, continuous power:



PA Consulting Group also recognized We Energies with the Outstanding Customer Reliability Experience Award for our efforts to relay real-time and accurate information during power outages.

PA Consulting announcement

Ensuring safe and reliable service is our top priority. We’re upgrading our infrastructure system-wide to ensure we have modern, efficient facilities. Over the next five years, we plan to rebuild hundreds of miles of electric distribution lines and replace thousands of poles and transformers. We’re committed to delivering the best service possible, and these awards are a testament to our employees’ hard work and dedication.

Our team accepted both honors at a ceremony on Nov. 16.



Tuesday, November 15, 2016

We Energies Foundation lights up Milwaukee for holidays

While keeping the lights on is everyday business at We Energies, the holidays call for some extra cheer. The Milwaukee Holiday Lights Festival begins Nov. 17, presents nightly displays through Jan. 1 and includes multiple events that bring holiday lights to the city. The We Energies Foundation has helped sponsor the festival since its inception 18 years ago.

The Holiday Lights Festival begins with the Kick-Off 
Extravaganza at Pere Marquette Park on Nov. 17.
Lighting festivities begin at City Hall with the 103rd annual tree lighting by Mayor Tom Barrett at 5:29 p.m. After the tree is lit, viewers are invited to walk across the Kilbourn Avenue Bridge to Pere Marquette Park for the Milwaukee Holiday Lights Festival Kick-Off Extravaganza, organized by Milwaukee Downtown Business Improvement District (BID) #21. Here music and dance groups will energize the crowd to help turn on more than 500,000 lights throughout downtown.

The lights and holiday cheer continue after the event with Jingle Bus rides, Santa’s mailbox and other happenings throughout the holiday season. A full list of these events can be found on the Milwaukee Downtown website.

“The support of We Energies has been critical in bringing this free family fun event to downtown Milwaukee,” says Beth Weirick, CEO of Milwaukee Downtown, BID #21. She thanks We Energies for its “support and commitment in making downtown Milwaukee a great destination that not only enhances the city but also helps to build a stronger region.”

If you can’t make the event, tune in to WISN 12 Live at 6:30 p.m. on Thursday, Nov. 17, and catch the fireworks and performances at Pere Marquette Park. Or take a walk during the holiday season through some of the many sites, including the North Pole Power Depot in Zeidler Union Square adjacent to the We Energies offices, where the light animations depict Santa’s elves decorating, shopping, building and shipping as they prepare for the holidays.


Monday, November 14, 2016

From comedy to cookies, famous filmmakers have recipe in Cookie Book

“Surely you can’t be serious.”

“I am serious … and don’t call me Shirley.”

You may remember those familiar lines from “Airplane!” Now, the brains behind that classic movie are branching out from comedy to cookies.

Filmmaker David Zucker
David and Jerry Zucker were born in Milwaukee and raised in Shorewood. They submitted a recipe for this year’s We Energies Cookie Book, and it made the cut. David talked about the honor during a recorded segment for WUWM-FM’s “Lake Effect” program. 

The Zuckers’ mandelbread recipe actually comes from Charlotte Zucker, the filmmakers’ mother. She passed away in 2007, but her memory lives on in this delicious recipe, as well as in cameo appearances in her sons’ films. She played the lipstick lady in “Airplane!” 

David recalls coming home from both college and L.A. to freshly-baked mandelbread. His sister now makes the sweet treat and sends it to David and his family, who are spread out across the country. The mandelbread pieces are usually “gone in seconds,” he said during the interview. “They’re addicting. They’re so good.”

“Tens of thousands of people could be out there making your mom’s mandelbread recipe,” Mitch Teich, “Lake Effect” host, added. 

The interview airs Nov. 15 on “Lake Effect,” which begins at 10 a.m. Tune in to 89.7 FM or find the show online after it airs. http://wuwm.com/programs/lake-effect



Thursday, November 10, 2016

Consider a career as an electric or natural gas designer

If you are a high school senior or know a high school senior who is trying to decide a career path, we’re hosting an open house for students interested in becoming utility designers.

As we upgrade and modernize our system, we need skilled electric and natural gas system designers. Learn more during National Apprenticeship Week. Our designers will explain how they’re building the energy grid of the future, show design samples and demonstrate the tools they use for their work.

Apprentice designers have a starting wage in the range of $21 to $29 an hour.

Visit our open house to learn more:
Tuesday, Nov. 15, 3 p.m.
We Energies
500 S. 116th St.
West Allis

RSVP: tricell.brown-street@we-energies.com






Monday, October 31, 2016

Famous names in 2016 Cookie Book

Comedian John McGivern is never short on jokes. “I was the son of an Irish woman who boiled everything!” he likes to kid. But his mom made delicious sugar cookies, and they were the starting point for his “Jelly Sandwich Cookie” recipe in our 2016 We Energies Cookie Book.

McGivern turned to the pros at Milwaukee Area Technical College’s baking and pastry arts program to put a new twist on his mom’s recipe. “It’s a new version of anybody’s sugar cookie,” he said. “It’s a great sugar cookie!”


McGivern’s recipe is among 38 featured in this year’s Cookie Book, titled the “Wisconsin Heritage Edition.” From entertainers to educators to community leaders, customers will recognize many of the recipe contributors. From former Olympic speed skater Bonnie Blair’s “Killer Brownies” to Archbishop Jerome Listecki’s “Lemon Shortbread Cookies,” there’s a wide variety of sweet treats to please the palate.

The 2016 We Energies Cookie Book and a listing of more than two dozen distribution events can be found here.

We’re expecting thousands at our signature distribution events at Miller Park in Milwaukee and Fox Cities Stadium in Appleton on Saturday, Nov. 5 from 9 a.m.-1 p.m.

The We Energies Cookie Book is a company tradition dating back more than 85 years. Older editions of the book have become collector’s items. Check out our archive of more than 50 editions on our website.

Friday, October 28, 2016

Invasive species battle waged at park along Wisconsin-Michigan border

Another battle against invasive species recently took place at Cowboy Lake Park, just west of Iron Mountain, Michigan.

Taking out invasive plants at Cowboy Lake Park.
Students from Kingsford High School’s environmental science class partnered with the Wild Rivers Invasive Species Coalition (WRISC) to participate in an invasive species control day at Cowboy Lake Park. The students and adult volunteers manually removed buckthorn, exotic honeysuckle, Japanese barberry and other invasive plant species on Oct. 13.

Through our We Energies Mitigation and Enhancement Fund grants, we have supported WRISC’s operations in northeast Wisconsin and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan for several years now. WRISC also partners with us on purple loosestrife control along the Menominee River.

In Southeast Wisconsin, we help support a similar initiative called the Southeast Wisconsin Invasive Species Consortium (SEWISC).

“Through the We Energies Foundation, we have supported the consortium for several years, providing funding for boots-on-the-ground invasive species management,” said Mike Grisar, principal environmental consultant at We Energies, who was involved with the inception of SEWISC as well as WRISC.

Grisar explained our company’s interest in the war against invasive species as a responsibility attached to being good stewards of the properties in and around its facilities throughout Wisconsin and Michigan.

“Meeting our regulatory requirements is one reason, but this type of work also is part of our larger environmental commitment to our customers and communities we serve,” said Grisar. “We want to be good stewards of the remarkable natural areas associated with our hydroelectric properties as well as many of our other power plants.”

Non-native species problems extend beyond plants. Emerald ash borers, zebra and quagga mussels are some examples. “These species and others can kill native species as well as damage property value of homeowners and businesses,” he said. “For example, the proliferation of zebra and quagga mussels can severely reduce efficiencies of our water intakes and other power plant equipment.”

Grisar also mentioned concerns about certain plants that pose a human threat in terms of skin burns that can be inflicted by contact with wild parsnip, or skin burns, scars and even blindness caused by giant hogweed.

Fortunately, those were not present at Cowboy Lake Park. The students and volunteers at the park targeted the thick and thorny wood invasives, which harm the forest ecosystem by spreading rapidly and growing quickly to overcome their native competitors.

The students also installed their sign for “Adopt-A-Spot,” a program that allows groups to adopt a favorite location – park, trail or other area – and monitor it for invasive species. 

Kingsford High School’s environmental science class with its
Adopt-A-Spot sign at invasive species control day.
Once a group decides to adopt a spot, WRISC conducts a survey of the property to identify invasive species that are present and later provides a workshop to help a group identify these species and to get started on controlling infestations. Groups get a sign for the property to let visitors know who monitors the location. 

Learn more about WRISC and its programs, such as Adopt-A-Spot:
Wild Rivers Invasive Species Coalition

Learn more about SEWISC and its programs: 

Learn more about We Energies environmental commitment:
We Energies - Environment


Beware of energy vampires!

Energy vampires are devices that suck power, even when they’re not in use. These vampires can boost your electric bill $100 to $200 a year. Here are some easy fixes to frighten them away:

  • Unplug your chargers. Cell phone chargers continue to drain energy, even when disconnected from your phone. Don’t forget to unplug them when they’re not in use. 
  • Use a power strip. Use a power strip to shut off your TV and game console all at once when you’re not using them. Advanced power strips will cut the power to idle electronics so you don’t have to remember to do so. 
  • Check the bathroom. Unplug hair dryers, electric shavers and curling irons when you’re finished using them.
  • Go to sleep. When you go to bed, make sure your electronics do, too. Put your computers in sleep mode or turn them off completely.
  • Upgrade, if you can. Newer, Energy Star appliances are getting smarter and take less energy than their predecessors. Cable boxes used to be some of the deadliest energy vampires, but new models (post 2013) are much more efficient. Check with your cable provider about updating your box.
  • Learn more. Read about energy vampires in your home, how much power they waste and the best ways to ward them off here.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Employees support United Way and Project Homeless Connect

Our annual United Way workplace giving campaign is underway, and some employees are showing their support by volunteering for Milwaukee Project Homeless Connect. They joined in a one-day event, funded in part by United Way, which brought multiple resources together to serve people experiencing homelessness.

Left to right: Paul Becherer, Paul Kessler, Hallie Knipple, 
Lisa Bahr, Jared Peccarelli.
Paul Becherer, plant operator at our Valley Power Plant in Milwaukee, was among those who helped guests navigate the services and resources, which included haircuts, health and dental checkups, flu shots and housing information. Becherer worked the overnight shift prior to the event, going home for just an hour of sleep before volunteering on what was scheduled to be his day off.

“We all need to give back to the community so that we can make this a better world to live in,” Becherer said of his decision to volunteer.

One of the guests he helped shared his personal story with Becherer. “Listening to Nathaniel’s story of living on the streets was very humbling, so giving up a little sleep and time was well worth it,” he said.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Students explore new heights with careers in energy

Line mechanics with various levels of experience – from a 15-year We Energies veteran to individuals in their first few months of training – gathered at Milwaukee Area Technical College’s (MATC) Mequon campus on Tuesday morning to inspire high school students to learn their trade.

Nick Trudell, a line mechanic with We Energies, is halfway through his four-year apprenticeship. He got his start at MATC and calls his experience there “a good base to grow on.”

Trudell’s dedication to inspiring the next generation of line mechanics speaks to the program’s success. “The training prepares you for different situations,” he said. “Safety is always first, and someone’s always watching.” Trudell recognizes both the risks and the rewards of the work. He recommends the job for anyone who likes to work outside, is determined and understands the importance of safe work habits.



And safety was the top priority as Trudell gave high school students a hands-on experience at MATC. He helped them put on safety harnesses before taking them 65 feet in the air in a bucket truck.

Nearby, current MATC students practiced climbing utility poles. They gave the high school students a quick lesson and let them try it for themselves. The general consensus was that climbing utility poles is a lot harder than it looks, even with proper gear.

Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development Secretary Raymond Allen visited MATC for Careers in Energy Week. He read a proclamation from Governor Scott Walker at a brief ceremony on campus. Trudell also spoke during the ceremony, highlighting his positive experience at both MATC and We Energies.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Careers in Energy Week focuses on job opportunities

This is Careers in Energy Week, a week focused on raising awareness about energy careers available in Wisconsin. 

Technical colleges throughout Wisconsin are providing information and hosting events to promote the many employment opportunities in the energy industry. Companies like ours are working with academic institutions to make sure qualified staffing is available for the many craft, engineering and technical positions needed now and in the future.

According to the Mid-West Energy Research Consortium, Wisconsin's energy, power and control sectors employ more than 100,000 people and generate $38 billion in annual sales. Salaries for Wisconsin technical college energy graduates top the colleges’ self-reported earnings with median annual incomes for graduates in gas utility construction and service at $65,579, followed by $59,504 for utilities engineering technology graduates.

If you or someone you know is interested in working in an industry that provides safe and reliable energy for customers throughout the state, check out the following resources for more information:

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Energy assistance now available

Customers now can apply for energy assistance for the upcoming heating season.

Applying for energy assistance has never been easier. Visit the Wisconsin Home Energy Assistance Program (WHEAP) website at homeenergyplus.wi.gov or call 866-432-8947.

Milwaukee County residents can apply for assistance in person at Community Advocates or United Migrant Opportunity Services (UMOS). Visit energyassistancemke.org or call 414-270-4653 for more information.

More families may qualify for aid this year due to changes in income eligibility. For example, an individual who earns $26,174 per year or less may qualify, and families of four that earn up to $50,336 per year also may qualify.

WHEAP provides qualified residents with a one-time grant to help pay energy bills. Qualification is based on income levels, not on whether someone is behind on paying their energy bills.

Applicants must provide:
  •  Photo ID for applicant, including name and address
  •  Proof of income for all household members for previous three months
  •  Social Security numbers for everyone in the household
  •  Current energy bill or account number
  •  Phone number of landlord and rent certificate or statement (if applicant is a renter and heat is included in rent or a separate payment is made to the landlord)
WHEAP provides assistance to more than 200,000 Wisconsin families annually.

Customers with questions about their energy bills or payment options should call our payment assistance line at 800-842-4565.

Friday, September 30, 2016

2016 We Energies Cookie Book one step closer to completion

2016 We Energies Cookie Books on the presses.
The 2016 edition of the We Energies Cookie Book has hit another milestone – printing! While the pages can be printed in about 24 hours, it takes approximately two weeks in the bindery for the books to be bound, boxed and ready for distribution.

This year’s book, the Wisconsin Heritage edition, features 38 recipes from special contributors throughout the state – names you may recognize like former Olympian Bonnie Blair, comedian John McGivern and gardening guru Melinda Myers, sharing ideas for cookies that will become family favorites for generations to come.

We’ll be distributing Cookie Books at signature events in Milwaukee and Appleton on Nov. 5. Books also will be available at 25 other distribution events throughout our service area in November. You can find the schedule and archive of past Cookie Books online.


First hydroelectric plant was built in Appleton in 1882

Renewable energy has a long history at We Energies. On Sept. 30, 1882, the first hydroelectric plant opened in Appleton, Wisconsin. The plant was conceptualized by H.J. Rogers, president of the Appleton Paper and Pulp Co. and the Appleton Gas Light Co. (later Appleton Edison Light Co.) -- one of our many predecessors.  
Vulcan Street Plant
Rogers' company built the Vulcan Street plant on the Fox River, which powered the plant's water wheel and provided enough power to generate 12.5 kilowatts that lit 180 lights, powered Rogers' riverside paper mill and lit his home perched on a bluff overlooking the mill. 
Although his spacious home was a Victorian showplace, the hydro plant was little more than a shed. A replica of the plant can be found today on South Oneida Street. 
Back in the day of Appleton's first hydro plant, electric bills actually were "light" bills and calculated based on the number of electric lamps in a home or business. The cost was $1.20 a month per lamp -- about $26 in today's dollars. Quite a luxury at the time.
Today, you can light a 10-watt LED bulb for 5 hours a day at a cost of just 20 cents a month.

Friday, September 23, 2016

‘A day so rich in respect, dignity and camaraderie’: What it’s like to be an Honor Flight guardian

Kevin Harrison, electric distribution controller – electric operations at We Energies, volunteered to be a guardian during the Stars and Stripes Honor Flight on Sept. 17. A retired member of U.S. Special Operations Forces himself, who served three tours of duty in Afghanistan as a senior medic from 2005 to 2010, he wrote this summary of the experiences throughout the Honor Flight trip.

Robert Bob Schaefer and Kevin Harrison.
From the moment of our departure, escorted by dual P-40 Warhawk 1940-era airplanes, to the parade through General Mitchell Airport upon our return, the 35th Stars and Stripes Honor Flight was chock-full of thoughtful, well-orchestrated and moving activities. The responsibility of serving as guardian for Robert “Bob” Schaefer, an 85-year-old Korean War Army medic, was not a burden, but an honor. Though he never expressed to me the impact of the journey that day, it was apparent on several occasions that he was awed by the experience.

The monuments Bob most wanted to see were the Korean War Veterans Memorial and Arlington National Cemetery, but on this day we saw far more than that. Our stops also included the World War II Memorial, the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial, the Marine Corps War Memorial and the United States Air Force Memorial as we coasted through Washington, D.C., on buses escorted by local police. As we toured all of the memorials, the amount of reverence for these veterans was palpable.

The Changing of the Guard ritual performed by 3rd Infantry Regiment soldiers at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier was especially impressive in its meticulously coordinated movements. The absolute silence made every movement stand out and added to the chilling effect of the ceremony itself. 

The 88 veterans who participated in the Stars and Stripes 
Honor Flight on Sept. 17 in front of the Franklin Delano 
Roosevelt Memorial. 
Every aspect of the journey was well-considered by the organizers, but their great accomplishment was the reception upon returning to Milwaukee. The airport terminal was packed with people who had come to show support for those who had given so much for their nation. It was overwhelmingly powerful for me as much as it was for Bob.

While I was driving Bob home at the end of the day, he was stunned by how many people had shown up to pay homage to the veterans. “How did they get so many people to show up?” he asked, and I replied, “They just told people that there was an opportunity to thank veterans, and all of these people showed up. That is how much your service still means to us.”

“Well, it was almost too much,” he said.

The journey was especially profound for me, as a veteran myself, looking at Bob make fast friends with the other veterans – the stories shared, the jokes told and, on occasion, the tears shed. As I stood in front of the collected group while they were posing for a group picture, I reflected for a moment on the spirit of service still alive today, and hoped that all veterans could someday be rewarded with a day so rich in respect, dignity and camaraderie.

De oppresso liber,*

Kevin Harrison


* De oppresso liber, often translated as “to free from oppression,” is the motto of the United States Army Special Forces.



Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Employee describes his We Energies Honor Flight experience

Bryan Davis and Harry Schilling
“I am deeply humbled by my experience on the Honor Flight with Harry,” said Bryan Davis, supervising electric distribution controller – electric operations, one of two We Energies employees serving as guardians on a recent company-sponsored Stars and Stripes Honor Flight. 

The Honor Flight program flies World War II and Korean War veterans, as well as terminally ill veterans from other conflicts, to Washington, D.C., for a day of visiting their memorials.

“Harry” is Harry Schilling, an 88-year-old Korean War veteran who served four years as a Navy aviation mechanic. In spending the day as Schilling’s guardian, Davis learned that he enlisted when he was 18. Davis also discovered that Schilling’s two older brothers lost their lives in combat during World War II.

Davis said his greatest takeaway from the Sept. 17 trip was a deeper appreciation for sacrifice WWII and Korean War veterans made. “It was a time when the sovereignty of our country was being tested to the limit. When these heroes were called to duty, there was a very good chance that they would never return.”

Because Schilling was a Korean War veteran, Davis assumed that the Korean War Memorial would be of greatest interest, but that wasn’t the case.

“Harry wanted to spend most of his time at the World War II Memorial. It was evident that (the loss of his brothers) was heavy on his heart throughout the entire trip,” said Davis, whose grandfathers also served during WWII.

A powerful experience

Davis noted that, for him, the changing of the guard at Arlington Cemetery was most meaningful. “The last stop at Arlington Cemetery was the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier,” Davis said. “This ceremony was extremely powerful and the raw emotion on display from the veterans is something I’ll never forget.”

We Energies has supported the Stars and Stripes Honor Flight since its inception in 2008. In addition to the company sponsoring the cost of the Sept. 17 flight, employees provided handwritten letters, notes and cards thanking the veterans for their service. More than 150 were distributed – along with letters from the veterans’ own family members and friends – during “mail call” on the flight back to Milwaukee.

Davis said he was grateful to be selected as a guardian and to experience the day. “I never served, but I know a lot of people in our company have. This was a chance to serve our veterans and pay my respects.”

We Energies’ other guardian on the flight was Kevin Harrison, electric distribution controller – electric operations. “I hold great esteem for those who have served but especially those who served in World War II and Korea, given the comparisons between warfare then and warfare now,” he said. “It is amazing and humbling to consider what past veterans endured in service to our country.”



Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Why we charge a fee for certain types of bill payments

For customer convenience, we offer many ways for customers to pay their energy bills -- online, phone, mail, automatic withdrawal and in person. Some are free and some have processing fees.

Many customers choose to pay with a credit or debit card, and that's one of the payment methods that involves a processing fee, which is $2.95. We often hear from customers who point out that other businesses don't charge for credit or debit card transactions and that we shouldn't either.

Why we charge a fee

Whenever a company accepts credit or debit card payments from customers, there is a cost, typically a percentage of the payment amount that the company must pay to the card company. Most companies just add those costs to their products and services, which are then paid by all customers regardless of how they pay. 
 
In short, we cannot spread those costs among all customers because state regulators don't allow it. Fairness is the reason. Customers who pay via other methods shouldn't have to help pay the processing fees of others who choose credit or debit card payments. 

The fees go to our payment processor (BillMatrix), card companies, processing banks and banks that issued the cards. We receive no part of the fee. 

How to pay without a fee

Avoiding a fee is easy -- just register for My Account, which allows you to pay online on our secure site. My Account also offers other benefits, including due date reminders, payment history, personalized money-saving tips and more.

My Account information and registration

All payment options

Thursday, September 15, 2016

See our historic headquarters during Doors Open Milwaukee

Few buildings are still standing from the early 20th century, and even fewer have the history and grandeur of our Public Service Building (PSB) in downtown Milwaukee. This weekend, you can get a rare glimpse inside our historic headquarters during Doors Open Milwaukee. 

The PSB was built in 1902 as a central station for The Milwaukee Electric Railway and Light Company (TMER&L), a predecessor of We Energies. Milwaukee’s original streetcars operated out of the building. Trains entered from Second Street, picked up their passengers, and then exited onto Third Street. At one point, the building was the largest interurban railway terminal in the United States.

The PSB was designed in a neoclassical, Beaux-Arts style which was very popular in the early 20th century. The four-story building is an architectural treasure, both outside and within. In the early days of the building, the second floor featured facilities for entertainment including an auditorium, bowling alley, library, billiard room and barber shop. The auditorium still is used today as a corporate meeting space. 

As visitors approach the PSB, they usually take note of the operating clock above the main entrance. Inside, attention is drawn to the marble lobby walls that came from an Italian quarry and include a curious architectural detail: a stained-glass window depicting a swarm of bees buzzing around a hive.

 
“When people first walk in the door, their mouths drop open at the sight of the lobby,” said Tim Brown, We Energies’ coordinator for the event. “We have received positive feedback every year since we started participating in Doors Open Milwaukee. We are happy to show this architectural gem to the community, which would not normally have access to it.”

The PSB was remodeled many times over the years to accommodate the needs of its occupants, but in 1996, the company completed a grand effort to restore the building to its original glory while also expanding and modernizing office space. The building is on the National Register of Historic Places.

The PSB will open its doors from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 17 and Sunday, Sept. 18. Visitors are invited to tour the lobby and auditorium, and also can attend a presentation about the building and company history.