Friday, April 29, 2016

Supporting Arbor Day activities

West Bend Arbor Day event.
Today is Arbor Day – founded in 1872 as a special day set aside for tree planting. We are involved in several community activities to support Arbor Day.

One of the events sponsored by the We Energies Foundation took place on Earth Day last week in West Bend. About 600 serviceberry tree saplings were purchased and distributed to fifth-grade students at the celebration. The students took the trees home to their families for planting.

Serviceberry trees are three-season trees that have white blossoms in the spring and red berries with orange leaves in the fall. They only grow to 15 feet, so they are perfect trees to plant to avoid power lines.

Today, we also will participate in programs in Fox Point, West Allis and Waukesha where we will provide information on safe digging, tree planting and tree trimming. Trees will be planted at the celebrations.

When you plan to plant a tree, remember these tips:
  • Plant trees that won’t interfere with power lines when fully grown. Small ornamental trees or shrubs that will not exceed 15 feet in height such as serviceberry, dogwood and low-growing evergreens are best to plant around power lines. 
  • Plant taller trees such as maple, basswood, burr oak, white pine or spruce, which grow to more than 40 feet, at least 50 feet from power lines.
  • Call 811 three days ahead of any planting to mark underground utilities such as power lines and natural gas pipes. This service is free.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

We Energies wins Arbor Day Foundation award

We Energies Forestry staff.
We Energies has been named a Tree Line USA winner for the 18th time by 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 achieved the award by meeting program standards such as sponsoring a tree-planting and public education program, maintaining a tree-based energy conservation program and helping homeowners choose appropriate  trees to plant near energy lines.

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

Monday, April 25, 2016

Watch our peregrine falcons on live webcam

Once again, you can watch our power plant falcons via live webcam. Our annual “falcon cam” has officially launched for the season at www.we-energies.com/falcons. The live feed is focused on our Valley Power Plant in Milwaukee where dad Hercules and mom, an unbanded female, have been incubating four eggs. They’re expected to start hatching any day now.


This year, we’re inviting the public to help name the chicks at our Valley Power Plant. Winners will get to visit the plant and see the chicks in person when they get their wildlife bands later this spring. Get details:


We also have nest boxes at power plants in Pleasant Prairie, Oak Creek, Port Washington – all in Wisconsin – and another one in Marquette, Michigan. Our live feed will switch between some of these sites, depending on activity in the nest boxes. Hourly photos also are available from each site. 

Be sure to follow us on Facebook and Twitter, where we’ll post updates throughout the nesting season. You also can subscribe to our raptor blog and get updates sent right to your email inbox.

More than 220 peregrine falcons have been born at We Energies facilities since 1997, representing nearly 20 percent of Wisconsin’s peregrine population. But there’s still work to be done. Peregrines remain an endangered species in both Wisconsin and Michigan.

Name the falcon chicks at our Valley Power Plant!

We have an “egg-cellent” idea. Naming a peregrine falcon chick is not something you get to do “aviary” day.

Do you have the right creative “talont” to win our naming contest?

Artemis, Wompus, Xenon and Thunder Claw are some of the names chosen for We Energies peregrines in the past. Can you top those?

This year, we’re inviting the public to enter our chick naming contest. Peregrine falcon chicks are expected to arrive soon at our Valley Power Plant in Milwaukee. Keep tabs on the nest box through our live falcon cam at we-energies.com/falcons.

You could just “wing” it, but we suggest you put a little thought into your selection.

Tell us in 100 words or less, why you chose the name. We’ll review all entries and select winners. The following criteria will be considered:
  • Is the name creative?
  • Is the name descriptive of a falcon?
  • Is there a story behind the name?
  • Is the name gender neutral? (Sex of chicks is not yet known)
Entries must be received by May 12. Send your entry to us at: contest@we-energies.com.

Winners will be announced on May 13. Entrants can only win once. Winners will be invited to the Valley Power Plant to see the chicks get their wildlife bands. The banding date will be determined by We Energies.

*There is no guarantee all the eggs will hatch or all the chicks will survive. Winning names will be given to the chicks who receive wildlife bands on banding day.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

We Energies protects wood turtles

Friday, 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 has the potential to disturb a 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 exclusionary fencing to prevent the turtles from entering our work zones, and we directionally drill to bore underneath the turtle’s 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 of 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.

Visit our blog series that features:
Peregrine falcons
Ospreys
Karner blue butterflies  

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

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 for lupine to grow and thrive.

The Karner Blue Butterfly HCP is working so well that it is now focusing efforts 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.

Recently, 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. Continued monitoring and management of this area will continue for several years to ensure the restoration is a success.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Helping endangered peregrine falcons

As we get ready to celebrate Earth Day, we’re highlighting some of our environmental initiatives.

Did you know endangered peregrine falcons have been calling our power plants home for more than two decades? In fact, we were one of the first companies to get involved in Wisconsin’s peregrine recovery effort.

Adult peregrine at Pleasant Prairie Power Plant.
Peregrines disappeared after the widespread use of pesticides such as DDT led to eggshell thinning. By 1964, they were virtually extinct east of the Mississippi River and in serious decline throughout the rest of the country.

Peregrine researcher Greg Septon approached We Energies in the early 1990s to see if we would sponsor the release of captive-produced peregrines. He also asked if we’d install a man-made nest box at our Pleasant Prairie Power Plant. We said yes to both. 

     Chicks at Valley Power Plant.
Historically, peregrines nested on cliffs along rivers and lakes. Septon suspected they would nest on our man-made “cliffs” along Lake Michigan. He was right. Peregrines moved into our power plant nest boxes and started producing young.

Today, we have nest boxes at five of our power plants in two states. All told, more than 220 young have hatched at our sites. But there’s still work to be done. Peregrines remain an endangered species in both Wisconsin and Michigan.

Learn more about our efforts at we-energies.com/falcons. We have videos about our program and an educational booklet for teachers to use in the classroom. On April 26, we’ll again be launching our live falcon cam, giving you a look inside our power plant nest boxes. Eggs should begin hatching at some of our sites later this month.

Monday, April 18, 2016

We Energies celebrates Earth Day all year round

April 22, 2016, marks the 46th anniversary of Earth Day. Earth Day was created by Gaylord Nelson, a U.S. Senator from Wisconsin. Nelson’s mission was not only to create awareness about air and water pollution but also to make environmental protection part of the national political agenda. His idea was a success, and as the years passed, his idea led to the creation of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency as well as the Clean Air, Clean Water, and Endangered Species acts.

We are committed to practicing responsible environmental stewardship in the communities we serve. We’re helping protect several threatened and endangered species. From peregrine falcons and ospreys to Karner blue butterflies and wood turtles, we’ll highlight a different initiative every day this week – all leading up to Earth Day.

Ospreys

Ospreys frequently try to nest on top of our power poles, which can result in power outages and harm to the ospreys.

Since 1980, our field crews have constructed alternative nest structures for the birds, in areas where nests are known. Our crews have assisted private and public land owners in erecting nest structures in key habitat locations. We’ve helped install dozens of osprey platforms in Wisconsin and Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. These efforts have supported the recovery of ospreys, which now exceed more than 500 breeding pairs in Wisconsin alone.

Ospreys remain listed as a special concern species in Wisconsin after their population declined significantly in the 1950s and ‘60s due to widespread use of pesticides such as DDT.

We are working with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources to erect several new nest platforms in Racine and Kenosha counties on public lands near the Fox River. Ospreys have been observed frequenting these areas in recent years but have limited nesting opportunities. These additional platforms will aid overall osprey recovery.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Alarming spike in scam attempts

We’ve seen a record number of scam calls reported to us this week. On April 13, we had more than 80 customers report suspicious phone calls. The criminals claim the customers are behind on their bills and may face disconnection unless an immediate payment is made with a pre-paid debit card.

We do not solicit payments in this manner. If you get a call that sounds suspicious, hang up immediately and call us at 800-242-9137.

The scammers are sophisticated. Several customers reported to us that, when they called the criminals back, a recorded We Energies phone greeting could be heard. The scammers do this to try to make their effort seem legitimate.

The scammers also are intimidating. If you do not cooperate, they apply more pressure by implying that if you do not act within a few hours, your power may be turned off. They will say anything to frighten you into becoming a victim.

A local Milwaukee television station confronted one of the scammers in a phone interview. Not only did the crook admit to attempting to bilk We Energies customers, he expressed no remorse over it.

If you experience a loss through this type of scam, report the crime to local law enforcement.

Severe Weather Awareness Week

Two tornado drills will occur on April 14 at 1:45 p.m. and 6:55 p.m. The first drill is to help schools and businesses prepare for storm season. The second drill is an opportunity for families to create and review their emergency plans.

We work to maintain a reliable power delivery system, but severe weather and other events sometimes cause power outages that require many hours and even days to resolve.

In June 2010, a severe storm with high winds, lightning and heavy rain hit southeastern Wisconsin and caused power outages to more than 48,000 customers. The storm also created a tornado that caused extensive damage to the communities of Eagle and Mukwonago. Our crews worked through the night and into the next day to restore power and natural gas service to our customers after this storm.

Example of damage our crews dealt with in Eagle, Wisconsin.
Be prepared and know what to do should a power outage occur. Assemble an emergency kit and keep it where it’s easy to find in the dark.

Suggested items:
  • Flashlights and extra batteries 
  • Blankets 
  • Water-half gallon/day per person 
  • Canned or dried food 
  • Hand-operated can opener 
  • First-aid kit 
  • Prescription medications 
  • Specialty items for infants, seniors or disabled family members 
If you have advance notice of severe storms or other conditions that may lead to extended power outages, consider taking additional precautions:
  • Set freezer and refrigerator colder to help food stay safe longer 
  • Fill vehicle gas tank (gas station pumps do not operate without power) 
  • Get cash (credit or debit cards may not work if power is out) 
  • Charge devices, especially cell phones; consider spare power 
  • Know emergency shelter locations 
  • Get bottled water, other supplies 
Other considerations:
  • Battery back-up for sump pump 
  • Solar power cell phone charger 
  • Generator to power important appliances 
  • Surge suppression devices for protection when power returns 
  • Card or board games to pass time 
  • Dry ice for refrigerator/freezer 
  • Frozen jugs of water 
  • Well-being of friends, neighbors and relatives

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Cat rescued from utility equipment, 20 feet up

Cat waits for rescue on utility junction box.
It’s a good thing cats have nine lives. A Kenosha kitty found himself in quite a predicament Sunday. He was stranded on a utility junction box about 20 feet off the ground.

Luckily, some observant neighbors spotted the cat. They figured he was up there a while because he was shivering in the rain.

Onlooker Chris Altreuther was getting ready to initiate a rescue, but others grew concerned for his safety around the electrical equipment.

     Troubleshooter Paul Weis rescuing cat.
Neighbors insisted on calling We Energies to the scene to assist in the rescue. Troubleshooter Paul Weis arrived and lowered the kitty to safety within minutes.

The cat is recovering at Kindred Kitties, an animal shelter in Kenosha. The shelter nicknamed the adventurous kitty “Daredevil.”

Amazingly, Daredevil wasn’t injured. He avoided touching live power lines and electrical equipment. He was stranded on a phone company junction box.

The residents who witnessed the rescue have high praise for our troubleshooter, calling him “a wonderful and caring man.” Resident Lynn LeMay adds, “Paul was so kind. We want to thank you (We Energies) for sending him! Not only did he save the kitty, but also saved Chris from getting hurt.”

Kindred Kitties posted an update on Daredevil on the shelter’s Facebook page. If they cannot locate an owner, they will put him up for adoption in a couple of weeks.

Altreuther holding Daredevil.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Catch up on your bill and 'Stay Connected'

We urge customers behind on their energy bills to catch up before the end of the winter moratorium on utility shut-offs. Customers in significant arrears are at risk of disconnection starting April 18. We are using phone calls and bill inserts to alert customers who are behind on their energy bills.

Payment options

Assistance
Customers having problems paying their bills are encouraged to contact us as soon as possible at 800-842-4565. A minimum payment option and flexible payment plans may be available.

Some customers also may qualify for energy assistance through the Wisconsin Home Energy Assistance Program (WHEAP). There is no charge to determine eligibility or to apply for assistance. Customers can learn more about energy assistance at homeenergyplus.wi.gov or by calling 866-HEAT-WIS (866-432-8947).

Michigan customers also may qualify for benefits and can learn more by calling Michigan’s Department of Human Services at 855-275-6424 or visiting michigan.gov and typing “heat and utilities” in the search box.

Scams
Unfortunately, scammers have been known to prey on customers during this time of the year. A common ploy demands immediate payment via prepaid debit card. We do not solicit payments in this manner. Customers who receive suspicious phone calls or emails should contact us directly to verify the status of their account.

Helping customers
Watch as our dynamic duo, Mike and Phyllis, help customers who sometimes have trouble managing their bills: 

Falcon eggs at four power plants

Falcon incubates at Valley Power Plant.
Activity is really picking up at our power plant nest boxes. Peregrine falcon nesting season is in full swing with eggs present at four of our sites. If all of them hatch, we’ll see 14 chicks in about three to four weeks. That would put our We Energies falcon total at nearly 240 over the past 20 years.

Greg Septon, our peregrine manager, gave us a rundown on activity at each of our sites:

Four eggs at Valley Power Plant.
Valley Power Plant – Dad, “Hercules,” and mom, an unbanded female, are incubating four eggs. They’re expected to hatch between April 26 and 28.

Oak Creek Power Plant – Dad, “Scott,” and mom, “Eclipse,” are incubating four eggs. They’re expected to hatch between April 29 and May1. 

Port Washington Generating Station – Dad, “Ives,” and mom, banded as 91/P, are incubating three eggs. Estimated hatch dates: April 27 to 29. Septon is keeping a close eye on this site because he noticed the eggs were left unattended recently. This could mean the adults were trying to drive away an intruding falcon. Depending on how long the eggs were left unattended, they may be in jeopardy.

A territorial battle occurred at Pleasant Prairie 
Power Plant on March 12.
Pleasant Prairie Power Plant – Dad, “PBR,” and mom, an unbanded female who’s new to this site, are incubating three eggs. They’re expected to hatch between May 8 and 10. Septon captured this image through our nest box camera, showing a territorial battle between two female peregrines at the site on March 12. The unbanded female drove away “T. Swift,” produced in 2015 in Fort Wayne, Indiana. 

Presque Isle Power Plant – There aren’t any eggs yet at this site. The same female is back for her sixth year, along with an unbanded male.