Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Request filed to construct new substation in western Milwaukee County

We filed an application with the Public Service Commission of Wisconsin (PSCW) on Feb. 28 for authority to construct a new distribution substation and related distribution facilities in western Milwaukee County.

The Milwaukee County Substation would be built adjacent to our Milwaukee County Power Plant on Watertown Plank Road in Wauwatosa. The new substation is part of the Western Milwaukee County Electric Reliability Project we are planning jointly with American Transmission Co. (ATC).

To connect the new substation to the transmission system, ATC must build two 138-kilovolt (kV) transmission lines with two connections to the new substation. If approved by the PSCW, construction of the 138-kV lines is expected to begin in late 2014. ATC filed for regulatory approval to construct the two lines, which will run about two miles, on Feb. 27.

Over the past decade, the area surrounding the intersection of U.S. Highway 45 and Watertown Plank Road, commonly known as the Milwaukee County Grounds, has seen new development and associated electric load growth. Recent developments include the Milwaukee County Research Park, new facilities and expansions at the Milwaukee Regional Medical Center, and new commercial developments in the area.

The proposed project would meet near-term and long-term needs for additional, reliable and secure capacity. If approved, we likely would start construction of the substation in September 2014, with an anticipated in-service date of June 2015.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Why is state low-income assistance fee on energy bills?

Though it has been a part of bills for energy utility customers in Wisconsin for nearly a dozen years, the low-income assistance fee still comes up as a question from customers.

The fee, a result of Wisconsin Act 9, began in October 2000 as a line item called Public Benefits Fee. In 2008, it was renamed State Low-Income Assistance Fee. The law transferred the responsibility for administering and expanding public benefits programs from public utilities to the Department of Administration.

Our company as well as the other energy utilities, including municipal and cooperative utilities in Wisconsin, collect the fee and pass it on to the state of Wisconsin for deposit in the Utility Public Benefits Fund. The money is used to provide energy assistance to low-income households, which includes weatherization, bill payment assistance for income-qualified households and energy crisis early identification and prevention.

The Department of Administration reviews the fees once a year and makes changes based on a formula that factors in the needs of low-income households in the state and whether or not current funding levels can satisfy those needs. Any changes take effect on July 1 of that year. Currently, residential customers are charged 3 percent or a maximum of $3.15 a month, whichever is less. Maximums are higher for business customers. The fee applies to each account a customer may have.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Mueller recognized for 20 years of service to energy assistance program

Mike Mueller, manager – low income and medical condition programs, Customer Services, recently received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Wisconsin Division of Energy Services, recognizing his leadership and contributions over the past 20 years to the state’s low-income energy assistance and weatherization programs.

Mueller’s involvement began when he managed a weatherization program for low-income customers while he was a Wisconsin Gas Co. employee. For the past 15 years, he’s served on the state’s Low Income Energy Advisory Committee, a cross-functional group of representatives from nonprofit organizations, various counties, utilities and the state Division of Energy.

The committee assists with planning and providing input to state policies and programs for low-income assistance. Mueller said he enjoys working with the committee “to make sure dollars are used properly and that policy decisions are good for our customers.”

The award was presented to Mueller on Feb. 14, 2012, during the annual state low-income conference. Bob Jones, executive director of Wisconsin Community Action Program Association (WISCAP), also received a Lifetime Achievement Award. Jones served as a member of the task force formed by We Energies and the Public Service Commission of Wisconsin to design the Low Income Pilot. WISCAP is a voluntary association of 16 community action agencies that work together on issues of policy, resource mobilization, training and development, and advocacy to foster economic self-sufficiency for Wisconsin’s low-income households.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

New service center uses power plant ash for EcoPad

Our new service center in Menomonee Falls not only offers a larger, more efficient space for employees to work but also models our commitment to environmental stewardship.

Many eco-friendly features are included in the new structure, which opened last year. One of those features is the EcoPad that serves as the pavement surface in the facility’s yard area where heavy materials are stocked. An EcoPad is concrete pavement composed of power plant bottom ash, recycled concrete and a fly ash-plus-Portland-cement mix. These ingredients are mixed on the ground surface with a special piece of equipment used in pavement recycling. The bottom ash and fly ash ingredients came from our own power plants. The EcoPad uses 92 percent recycled content.

Fly ash from Oak Creek Power Plant was used as a binder or “glue” along with Portland cement, and 270 tons of bottom ash from the Oak Creek Expansion units was used as a fine aggregate. Recycled concrete from a local pavement recycling plant near Menomonee Falls completed the mixture.

The EcoPad is suited for the stockyard area where equipment, cable spools, transformers and other heavy items might damage or penetrate ordinary asphalt. The EcoPad's high strength can withstand 4,000 pounds of weight per square inch, which is better durability and service than asphalt provides. The surface of an EcoPad has the look of exposed aggregate -- rustic and durable.

Bottom ash is a sand-like material collected at the bottom of coal-fired boilers, which is marketed as a base construction material for roads, parking lots, buildings and as a trench backfill. Bottom ash replaces conventional sand, avoiding sand mining and use. In addition to the EcoPad, more than 6,000 tons of bottom ash were used as a base for road and parking lot paving at the service center.

Bottom ash from the Pleasant Prairie and Oak Creek power plants has been used extensively in construction projects throughout the greater Milwaukee, Racine and Kenosha areas, including:
  • I-94 reconstruction project in southeastern Wisconsin. 
  • Large warehousing facilities for building foundations, roads and parking lots. 
  • Utility trench backfills. 
These projects, among many others, have used several hundred thousand tons of bottom ash over the past 10 years.

The following 10-minute video details and demonstrates EcoPad:

Solar may be added to generation supply

We're looking at adding 12 megawatts (MW) of electricity generated by the sun over the next three years, further diversifying our power sources and expanding our use of renewable energy.

The addition requires Public Service Commission of Wisconsin (PSCW) approval. If approved, the first solar generation projects would be built on property we already own and would have a total capacity of approximately 5 MW. The projects likely will be included in the 2013 electric rate case for Wisconsin customers. These projects would be planned for service in 2014. We expect to include the other 7 MW of projects in the rate case planned for filing in 2014, for rates in 2015. Final costs and locations for projects have not yet been determined.

As part of our 2009 settlement with environmental groups concerning the water intake permit for the expansion units at Oak Creek, we committed to fund environmental projects in Lake Michigan and to expand production of renewable energy through biomass and solar power projects.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

New powerhouse proposed for Twin Falls hydroelectric plant

Current powerhouse photo taken from proposed site.
We're planning to build a new powerhouse at the aging Twin Falls hydro plant that borders Wisconsin and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan on the Menominee River.

Built in 1912, the dam is licensed to operate to 2040. The powerhouse was built at the same time, but its condition is such that it won't be able to operate for the license duration. Various repairs and upgrades to the dam and spillway structures have been completed since the mid-1960s, and the time has come for the powerhouse to be addressed.

We are proposing a new powerhouse on the Wisconsin side of the Menominee River to replace the current one on the Michigan side. The project also would include adding spillway capacity to meet current Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) safety standards.

Building on the opposite side of the river would allow the existing plant to continue generating electricity during the two years the new powerhouse would be built.

Maintaining the current powerhouse during construction also would allow water passage during winter. Although spillway gates can freeze in the last position set during the winter, water passing through the powerhouse turbines in winter would be adjusted to comply with FERC license requirements. If the existing powerhouse were to be removed to make way for new construction, we would be unable to manage the river through the powerhouse during the two winter seasons of construction.

New powerhouse construction requires multiple approvals, including:

  • License amendment issued by FERC. 
  • Certificate of Authority from the Public Service Commission of Wisconsin. 
  • Permits from Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, Michigan Department of Environmental Quality and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. 
  • Consultation with state historic preservation groups and Native American tribes. 
After working through the required amendments and permits, construction is targeted to begin in the spring of 2014 with an in-service date of summer 2016 for the new powerhouse. The old powerhouse would be taken down in the summer of 2017.