Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Point Beach credits set to expire

Our customers will see their electric bills rise Jan. 1 as credits for the sale of Point Beach Nuclear Plant come to an end.
Since 2008, we have refunded more than $800 million to customers from the sale of the plant to NextEra Energy Resources, a subsidiary of FPL Group Inc. of Juno Beach, Fla.

Bills for our largest customers -- factories and other large businesses -- will rise about 13 percent on average. These customers, who received the most credits because of their greater energy use, will see the greatest change in their bills. Other business customers can expect electric bills to rise 8 to 10 percent while residential customers can expect an increase of less than 5 percent.

For business customers in particular, the credits have helped offset increases on their bills tied to higher fuel costs and power plant construction.

To help customers prepare for the Point Beach credit adjustments, we have communicated the coming credit expiration via messages on bill inserts over the past two years. In recent months, we have communicated directly with large commercial, industrial and municipal customers to help them prepare and budget their energy costs.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Try some no-cost or low-cost energy savings

Consider some no-cost ways to save energy/money this winter:

Adjust your thermostat 
In addition to turning down your thermostat's typical setting to save, turn it down another 5 degrees at night or when leaving your home for an hour or more to save up to $70 on energy costs each year. If you buy a programmable thermostat, you can adjust the temperature settings automatically when sleeping or away. If you qualify to join Energy Partners, you can get a free one.

Adjust your hot water temperature
A setting of 120 degrees is recommended. If your temperature is more than 120, a 10-degree reduction can save 3 to 5 percent on water heating costs -- about $6 to $10 a year. If you buy a water heater blanket, you can reduce the energy needed to maintain hot water in the tank. View a video on how to check and adjust temperature.

Take advantage of sun
Open window coverings on south-facing windows to help warm your home and close window coverings in rooms that receive no direct sunlight to reduce window drafts. At night, close all window coverings to retain heat. Up to 15 percent of your heat can escape through uncovered windows.

Wash in cold water
Washing clothes in cold water can save about $40 a year with an electric water heater and about $30 a year with a gas water heater.

If you spend a little money, here are some additional ways to save:

Replace your furnace filter
Dirty filters reduce airflow and make equipment use more energy. Replace the furnace filter monthly during the heating season to reduce heating costs by up to 5 percent or about $35 a year. If you spend more, you can buy a high-efficiency filter that can last several months.

Install low-flow showerheads and faucets
Low-flow equipment can reduce hot water consumption as much as 10 percent -- about $6 per year for a sink aerator and $20 per year for a showerhead.

Change from incandescent to compact fluorescent lights (CFLs)
CFLs cost more but save about $50 over the life of each bulb.

Weatherize your home
You can save up to 10 percent in heating and cooling costs by sealing cracks to the outside by weather-stripping doors, adding gaskets to outlets and switches on outside-facing walls and sealing windows and gaps along the foundation.

These measures require more investment but offer long-term return:

Adding insulation to the attic and unfinished basement walls and crawl spaces is an easy and cost effect project. Adding wall insulation is more complicated, so consult a contractor. Proper insulation and weatherization can save as much as 20 percent in heating and cooling costs.

Buy more efficient appliances
The growing number of appliances and electronics are becoming a larger part of energy bills. Next time you need a refrigerator, washer, dryer, furnace, TV, computer or other device, consider one with an ENERGY STAR® rating, which can save up to $75 a year compared to less efficient models.

Need more ideas? Check out our 101 energy tips.

Monday, November 29, 2010

PSCW to hold hearings for proposed biomass facility

The Public Service Commission of Wisconsin (PSCW) will hold public hearings Nov. 30 in Rothschild, Wis., on our application to construct a biomass-fueled cogeneration plant at the Domtar Paper Mill in the village of Rothschild.

The public hearings will be at 1 p.m. and 6 p.m. at the Holiday Inn Hotel and Suites in Rothschild. Administrative Law Judge Michael Newmark will preside over the hearings. The PSCW also will hold a technical hearing at 9:30 a.m. on Dec. 2 at the PSCW office in Madison.

The hearings represent the final steps in the plant's approval process. The PSCW decision is expected in early 2011. If approved, the targeted in-service date for the plant is late 2013.

We filed our application on March 10, 2010, for approval to build and operate the 50-megawatt plant, which will supply steam for Domtar's mill operations as well as electricity for our customers.

Biomass energy project

Monday, November 22, 2010

Interactive map shows power outage locations

You now can view power outages on the We Energies system on a map.

The map shows outage locations in our service area by county and municipality. To ensure customer privacy, the map does not provide detail at a street or address level.

A number of electric utilities across the country have something similar, and we also heard directly from our customers through surveys and feedback that they wanted this feature on our website. 
The map is updated every 15 minutes and available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and shows: 
· Outage locations
· Numbers of customers affected
· Times outage were reported

The map also includes a search function for specific locations, such as ZIP code areas. The map has no provision for outage reporting, so you still need to call us at 800-662-4797 to report an outage.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

New service center planned for Menomonee Falls

We are planning to build a new service center for the first time in two decades. Located in Menomonee FallsWis., the center will combine operations of the current Menomonee Falls Service Center and certain functions of the Calumet Service Center in Milwaukee. When the new service center is finished next fall, Calumet will be closed. A groundbreaking ceremony was held Nov. 16 at the new location, which is at the intersection of Lilly Road and Warren Street.

Several years ago, Village of Menomonee Falls officials identified the existing Menomonee Falls Service Center as prime for retail development and offered to relocate it to a new property. The project was approved after careful consideration on the impact a move would have on operations and customer service.

“This is an opportunity to replace a 45-year-old facility with a new, energy-efficient service center and to promote economic development within the Menomonee Falls community,” said Art Flowers, area manager – Customer Operations. “Plus, operating out of the new location will allow us to improve customer response times – a win for all involved.”

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Cold weather power outage tips

When power goes out during cold temperatures, special precautions are needed to weather the situation:

Cold weather power outage tips:
  • Never use grills or outdoor cooking equipment indoors.
  • Be sure to have plenty of blankets and heavy clothing.
  • Close off unused rooms, add extra clothing, keep doors and windows closed. 
  • Open blinds and curtains if skies are sunny.
  • Keep generators outside, not in basement (because of carbon monoxide).
General outage safety tips:
  • Stay out of flooded basements.
  • If you leave house, have one light on that can be seen from street when power is on.
  • Stay away from downed or sagging power lines; do not touch anything on or near the lines.
  • If a power line falls across a vehicle you are in, stay inside.
  • If you use candles, set them on hard, flat surfaces; keep draperies and other flammable materials away; and do not leave them unattended. Best to use flashlights.
  • Have the following emergency items available: flashlight, cell phone, battery-powered radio, batteries, bottled water, nonperishable food.
  • If you have a well, draw an emergency water supply. Well pumps do not work if power goes out.
  • Unplug electrical appliances and plug them back in after your power is restored.
  • Know how to use your cell phone as your alarm clock should you lose power at night.
  • Keep refrigerator door closed as much as possible. Food can stay cold enough to last about 4 hours. Add dry ice to keep it cold longer.  
  • Frozen food will stay frozen for 48 hours if freezer is full; 24 hours if half full.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Winter natural gas forecast helps planning

Seeing the falling leaves reminds me that it's time to winterize the home, get the furnace checked and find the snow shovels. I also need to plan ahead for my winter heating bills. Weather and natural gas prices are two big factors – along with the temperature I set on my thermostat.

Here is the We Energies forecast for the winter heating season:

If the weather is comparable to last year when the temperature was 6.5 percent warmer than normal and the price of natural gas remains where it is today on the spot market, we can expect average residential customers to pay winter heating costs that are:
24 to 25 percent ($190 to $196) less than the most recent 5-year average.
4 to 5 percent ($25 to $31) less than the average residential customer paid last winter.
Less than 9 of the past 10 winters.

Based on normal winter weather and the price of natural gas remaining where it is today on the spot market, we can expect the average residential customer to pay winter heating costs that are:
17 to 18 percent ($134 to $140) less than the most recent 5-year average.
4 to 5 percent ($25 to $31) more than the average residential customer paid last winter.
Less than 8 of the past 10 winters.

Last winter, the average residential customer paid $626 in heating costs, which was:
23 percent ($188) below the average cost of the previous five winters.
26 percent ($219) below the costs of the previous winter.
29 percent ($252) below the costs of the most expensive winter (2007-08).
Less than 9 of the past 10 winters.

I'm hoping the weather is at least as warm as last winter so I pay less, but I won't be surprised if it returns to normal, which means I may be paying a little more than last year.  

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Extreme Makeover: Home Edition features home built with our help

A home in Neenah, Wis., that our crews helped build in mid-August will be featured on ABC-TV’s Extreme Makeover: Home Edition, Oct. 17, at 7 p.m. Central time.

Located at 770 Elm St. on Neenah’s southeast side, the home is owned by the Rhex Arboleda family.

Our participation started at 10 p.m. on Saturday, Aug. 14. We disconnected the natural gas and electric service to the existing home. We also rebuilt two spans of overhead lines – including a pole replacement – and installed temporary electric service for construction. Our work was done in about six hours.

Our employees returned Tuesday morning, Aug. 17, at 8:30 a.m. to find a new house with the siding and shingles being added. Our work was to install the new electric service. This was a challenge, but our crew stepped up to meet it, according to Bruce Sasman, our area manager in the Fox Valley. Sasman said the construction site was overrun with builders, and we had to install our underground electrical service where many people were working.

Work was complicated by the scant 6 feet between the house under construction and the adjacent dwelling, and a large emergency escape window well for the basement. Our crews also needed to install TV cable, phone cable, streetlight cable and natural gas service – all in the same spot. Our installation work ended about 2 a.m. on Wednesday morning. We removed the temporary electric service Thursday morning.

When the family returned Friday, thousands welcomed them and helped them “move that bus” to reveal their new home.

“The amazing part of this is the cooperation between all of the people on site,” said Sasman. “Every contractor we needed to deal with bent over backward to help us and others. It was a great representation of what people can do when they all have one goal.”

The production company project manager said we were one of the most organized and well-prepared utilities for such projects. “He told us we were definitely at the top of the industry,” said Sasman. “I’m extremely proud of our employees. It was gratifying to be a part of this amazing project.”

Tune in Sunday to see the results.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Annual campaign aims to increase natural gas safety awareness

Our annual natural gas pipeline safety awareness campaign is under way. We are sending information in bill inserts and airing radio commercials in English and Spanish throughout our service area. 

Though natural gas pipeline systems are regularly tested and problems seldom occur, you should call us at 800-261-LEAK (5325) if you ever smell an odor of rotten eggs, hear an unusual hissing sound or see dirt or debris blowing into the air near a natural gas line.

If you have natural gas service, you should add the natural gas emergency number to your cell phone. If you ever smell gas in your home, leave immediately and make the call from another location.

Here are the radio spots that are airing through mid-October:

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Maintaining a safe natural gas system

The natural gas explosion in California has prompted some questions about natural gas transmission and distribution systems, and what we do at We Energies to ensure safety.

We maintain about 530 miles of natural gas transmission pipe and about 20,000 miles of distribution mains.

Distribution mains are low-pressure, small-diameter pipes that move gas to neighborhoods. Transmission pipes, such as the one that ruptured in California, are larger pipes under higher pressure.

The National Pipeline Mapping System provides a high level view of where natural gas transmission lines are located. For security reasons, we do not provide maps showing exact locations of our pipelines, but we send letters to all customers within 1,000 feet of transmission lines each year.

We survey all of the transmission pipelines annually. We also survey all our distribution mains in populated areas each year to check for possible leaks. Distribution mains in rural areas are surveyed every other year. We also have about a million customer service lines, which are inspected every three years.

The surveys include walking the pipeline routes using highly sensitive equipment to find leaks. Regulatory agencies routinely audit the inspections. If we find a leak or other potential problem, we make repairs or improvements.

In addition to fixing any leaks or potential problems, we have ongoing system improvements. This year, we are replacing about 40 miles of aging natural gas lines with new piping that is more resistant to corrosion and earth movement. Each year, we invest about $50 million in upgrades and replacements to the distribution mains and service lines throughout our service area.

Pipeline damage
Most incidents involving natural gas pipelines involve a contractor or homeowner digging into buried distribution lines. To avoid such situations, be sure to call 811, a national hotline for underground facility location and marking – at least three days prior to digging. Using flags and paint, the free service marks any underground facilities that should be avoided when digging.

Reporting leaks
If you smell natural gas or have a natural gas emergency, leave immediately and call 800-261-LEAK (5325) from another location.

Listen to natural gas safety segment on 620 WTMJ Sunday Sip

More natural gas safety tips

Monday, May 17, 2010

State's largest wind farm gets OK

The Public Service Commission of Wisconsin (PSCW) recently approved our revised plan to construct Glacier Hills Wind Park in Columbia County, Wis. When completed, Glacier Hills will be the largest wind farm in Wisconsin. 

The revised plan changes the distance between wind turbines and homes of non-participating residents from 1,000 to 1,250 feet.

Site preparation and foundation work could begin as early as this week. The 90-turbine wind farm is expected to be completed by late 2011 and generate 162 megawatts of power--enough to power 45,000 typical homes.

Visit our website to get more information about the project.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Winter was kind to natural gas heating customers

A warm winter and a cool economy combined to keep natural gas prices low during the past heating season. 
Our typical customer paid less for heating this winter than all but one other winter in the past decade. 
For the six-month heating season that ended April 30, heating costs for a typical customer were $625, down 26 percent or $220 from $845 in the winter of 2008-2009. The lowest heating season of the past decade was 2001–2002 when the average residential customer’s heating bill was $469.
Unusually mild weather in March and April was one factor. The other was price. Abundant natural gas supplies and reduced demand due to the weather and the economy helped keep natural gas prices low.
Most customers realized those savings in the month they occurred, but customers who use budget billing saw prices adjusted downward twice last year. Recently, an increase was made to budget billing based on forecasts of a return to normal weather this summer and next winter.
In a report this week, the Energy Information Administration issued a forecast saying that natural gas prices will be a bit higher over the coming months compared with a year ago. But prices are still forecast to be well below the elevated prices of natural gas seen in 2008, when gasoline, crude oil and natural gas prices all soared.