Friday, June 29, 2012

PSCW approves plan to upgrade natural gas facilities

The Wisconsin Public Service Commission (PSCW) approved our application to replace natural gas facilities along a corridor that includes Milwaukee, West Allis, West Milwaukee and the eastern edge of New Berlin. The project, called the Lincoln – Arthur Main Replacement Project, is part of our ongoing replacement of older natural gas mains in the service area. The proposed cost of construction is $29.8 million.

The project is the best alternative and most advantageous means to meet our obligation as a utility. The segment identified for replacement is a main artery of the high-pressure gas system supplying customers in Milwaukee County.

Seventy-five percent of the gas mains between South 124th and South 47th streets along West Lincoln and West Arthur avenues were installed more than 60 years ago and vary in size between 18- and 30-inch pipe. These are high-pressure transmission mains operating at 175 pounds per square inch gauge (PSIG).

The Lincoln – Arthur Main Replacement Project will help meet future anticipated gas consumption in the Menomonee Valley area related to business development. It also will provide a possible option for supplying our Valley Power Plant with natural gas, provided we can demonstrate a direct economic benefit to the electric and steam customers served by Valley, and that the PSCW approves the fuel conversion.

Construction is tentatively scheduled to begin in March 2013, with completion in September 2014. Construction work would occur from March through September of each year.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Bald eagles benefit from our protection plan

Our Bald Eagle Protection Plan protects nesting eagles from disturbance, protects canopy trees for future nesting sites and offers financial incentives to members of the public who report raptor nesting sites on company lands. This plan supports bald eagle recovery in Wisconsin and Michigan, primarily in our Wilderness Shores Recreation Area – now home to about two dozen bald eagle pairs.

On distribution system projects, we evaluate records for known nesting sites. We also screen project routes for potential nests and nesting trees. If we find any, we develop a plan to either reroute the line or find another way to avoiding impact to nests.

On our hydroelectric project lands, we participate annually with wildlife and environmental agencies in monitoring known nesting sites, reporting new nesting sites and identifying nests that are either inactive or fallen. Our monitoring occurs while we conduct other survey work on the hydroelectric facilities. Agencies monitor activity in flyover surveys.

“We find some nests that are undiscovered during flyovers,” said Mike Grisar, senior consultant in our environmental department. “We report those, and whenever we have a project within close proximity to an active eagle nest, we work with state and federal agencies to ensure we have no impact to a nest.”

Grisar says that construction work within 1,500 feet of a nest is delayed to avoid active nesting periods. “We also conduct some selective timber harvests on the hydro project lands to aid in the forests’ long-term viability and sustainability. To protect the eagles, we create and maintain no-cut zones around the nest sites. Harvests are conducted outside the active nest period as well. Finally, some canopy trees are maintained and not cut to provide the habitat for eagles and other species dependent on these canopy trees.”

Wilderness Shores Recreation Area is located primarily along the border of northeast Wisconsin and Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. The area covers about 30,000 acres for 12 hydroelectric projects along the Menominee River system just north of Crystal Falls, Mich., to east of Amberg, Wis. About half the area is land and half water -- both essential habitat requirements to sustain eagles and their young.

Biomass cogeneration facility remains on schedule

The biomass cogeneration facility at Domtar’s Rothschild mill has been under construction for about a year, and progress is on schedule.

The steel framework is complete for most of the main buildings, and some structures already have siding and roofing material in place. The boiler, which is the largest piece of equipment at the facility, is being assembled inside the steel framework of the tallest building on site. Three other large pieces of equipment -- auxiliary boiler, steam turbine and generator -- will be shipped to the site this summer.

On any given day, more than 150 workers, many from north central Wisconsin, participate in building the facility. By late summer or early fall, the crew will be at its peak, with approximately 275 construction employees. Many local vendors also have assisted, providing various services and materials.

Environmentally beneficial practices are being used in the fuel storage building that will hold processed wood chips for burning in the boiler unit.

The building features a concrete pavement called an EcoPad. The pavement was made with recycled concrete and existing aggregates on site, fly ash and Portland cement. These ingredients were mixed on the ground surface with a special piece of equipment used in pavement recycling called a Pulverizer. The fly ash ingredients were sourced from the Presque Isle Power Plant and make up 50 percent of the cementitious material. EcoPad components in this project feature 92 percent recycled content overall.

The EcoPad's economical, durable and hard surface avoids sand and stone that would get into the fuel from a soil surface. The EcoPad also prevents moisture and mud from getting into the fuel. Recovered sand and stone from the site was recycled and used to avoid importing new materials, and coal combustion products (CCPs) from our power plants helped produce a superior product at a lower cost while avoiding landfill disposal and conserving natural resources. 

The EcoPad is one-third to one-half the price of traditional paving, such as asphaltic concrete or regular flatwork concrete. The EcoPad installs more quickly than conventional paving. Large areas can be installed within two days, helping advance construction schedules.

Further benefits of CCPs at the Rothschild biomass plant include additional concrete work that uses Class C fly ash in the mix design to produce concrete flatwork and a high strength, durable foundation.

Additional information about CCPs

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Michigan rates change

We Energies residential customers in Michigan will see a slight decrease in their electric bills for the rest of 2012 based on an order issued by the Michigan Public Service Commission (MPSC) June 26. Although the order from the MPSC included a base rate increase over all customer classes, the company will also apply a customer refund of $2.7 million to bills through December. The refund is associated with a legal settlement with the U.S. Department of Energy over the storage of spent nuclear fuel.

The average We Energies residential customer using 750 kilowatt hours/month will see a bill decrease of 89 cents per month through the end of the year. That bill would increase by 80 cents per month in 2013 when the customer refund expires.

We Energies initially filed the 2012 rate case on July 5, 2011, requesting a $17.5 million increase. The Michigan Public Service Commission (MPSC) issued a final order on June 26 for We Energies to increase its electric rates across all customer classes in that state by $9,197,912 annually. The approved increase includes $5,648,807 that was added to bills on Jan. 5, 2012.

The new electric rates reflect costs for substantial investments in reliability, renewable energy and environmental upgrades. Inclusion of these investments in customer rates represents the final piece of the recently completed Power the Future plan.

Keep cool, stay efficient during extreme heat

  • Keep heat-producing devices, including lamps and TVs, away from your thermostat. They can create a temperature higher than the true room temperature that leads to excessive cooling and wasted energy. 
  • Keep the air conditioner condenser and filter clean. Keep leaves, grass and other debris away from the outside condenser. Also, clean the filter monthly and replace it as needed. (Your central AC uses the same filter as your furnace.) A clean condenser and filter help the unit run more efficiently. 
  • Increase the thermostat setting. When at home, set it a few degrees higher to save energy. When leaving, move it even higher -- about 80 degrees. Cooling the house when you return costs less than keeping it cool all the time. 
  • Keep the sun out. Close blinds, shades and drapes on the sunny side of your home during the day to keep the house cooler, causing the air conditioner to use less energy to get the temperature to a comfortable level. 
  • Cool only rooms in use. Close unused rooms to avoid cooling them. 
  • Don’t make more heat. Delay dishwashing, cooking and laundering until cooler time of day or evening. 
  • Use microwave or outdoor grill rather than standard oven or range. 
  • Turn off electronics. Don’t leave TVs, stereos and computers on if not in use. They produce heat that makes your air conditioner work more. 
  • Keep vents clear. Keep furniture and drapes away from air vents to allow cool air to move and keep your air conditioner from working more than necessary. 
  • If you use a room air conditioner, use a plug-in timer and set it to turn off when you leave home and to turn it on just before you return. 
  • Don’t set the thermostat at high initially. When you first turn on your room air conditioner, set the thermostat at normal or medium. Setting it colder won’t cool the room any faster. 
  • If you buy a room air conditioner, locate it centrally and keep it out of the sun if possible to help it operate more efficiently. 
  • Close the fresh-air vent on a room air conditioner to avoid cooling outside air. Open the vent when outside air is cooler. 
  • Use fans with your air conditioner to circulate cool air. This allows you to raise the temperature and still be comfortable. Use oscillating and ceiling fans for best circulation.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Communities benefit from employees’ gift of time

An initiative launched by employees in customer operations and customer services in 2011 is making life better for the communities served by We Energies. Through the initiative – Create a Day of Service – employees have opportunities to volunteer their personal time for a variety of projects.

A team of employees from the Waukesha and Delafield service centers recently helped to build a Born Learning Trail in Nettesheim Park in Pewaukee. The trail helps make a visit to the park fun and informational. Adults and caregivers walking with children along the trail encounter stopping points that invite them to play a game of hopscotch, listen to sounds along the trail or identify butterflies, among other activities.

The employees dug holes for posts, painted the instructional signs and laid down crushed gravel for the pathway.

“We had fun working together,” said Patty Galante, manager-customer service, Waukesha Service Center, who co-organized the event. The work was completed over two work sessions by a group of 14 employees. The trail will be dedicated today.

Dedication details

Create a Day of Service activities are being planned at least quarterly, according to Karin Poznanski, executive assistant, Waukesha Service Center, event coordinator. Each service center has a volunteer activity coordinator who invites employees to suggest ways they and their co-workers can get involved in the communities they serve. In addition to hands-on work, service centers may sponsor collections for those who need help. A drive to collect items such as soap, toothpaste and socks for homeless men served by the Salvation Army currently is under way at the Waukesha and Delafield service centers.

The Create a Day of Service initiative has the potential to increase company visibility in the community, boost the company’s reputation and improve employee morale through teamwork, according to Galante, who is co-chairing the initiative with Paul DeWolfe, manager customer service – Winnebago Service Center. Nine additional customer operations employees serve on the steering committee.

Born Learning is a national campaign that helps parents, grandparents and caregivers explore ways to turn everyday moments into learning opportunities. Born Learning is a focus area of United Way of Waukesha County.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Peregrine falcon chick naming, banding concludes

On June 9, two peregrine falcon chicks were named and banded at Presque Isle Power Plant in Marquette, Mich. The chicks were named Felco and Superman, bringing to 15 the number of We Energies peregrine banded and named this season.

The first naming and banding of the season was at Valley Power Plant in Milwaukee. Rosie, Brady and Honor were the names that Cub Scouts from Rose Glen Elementary School in Waukesha gave to three peregrine falcons. The scouts were present for the banding session with wildlife expert Greg Septon on May 17. The scouts selected Rosie after their school, Brady, for one of the scouts, and Honor.

On May 21, the four chicks at Port Washington Generating Station were banded and named -- Dr. J, Peeta, Edna and Patricia.

News story in Port Washington/Saukville Patch

On May 24, fifth grade students from Deerfield Elementary School in Oak Creek got to visit and name the peregrine falcons that recently hatched at our Oak Creek Power Plant. The students named the three male chicks Hawkeye, Lightning and Tony, which was chosen at the last minute when they decided to name one of the chicks after reporter Tony Clark who was covering the event for Fox 6 News’ Real Milwaukee show. Clark's story aired May 29 at 9 a.m. WISN-TV also covered the Oak Creek banding.

Fox6 Real Milwaukee video

Slide show on

On May 29, a fifth grade class from Pleasant Prairie Elementary School attended the banding as part of a class field trip. Students also got to choose names for the chicks, all males: Rico, Lightning and Sky.

The chicks at Pleasant Prairie have attracted quite a following on our website. School groups from as far away as California have been monitoring the nesting activity, thanks to the live video stream from the nesting box webcam.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Peregrine population continues comeback with help of our power plant nest boxes

Photo courtesy of Greg Septon.
Peregrine falcons became an endangered species in many areas of the United States, including Wisconsin and Michigan, because of pesticides, but since the ban on DDT in the early 1970s, populations are recovering.

Known for their speed, reaching more than 200 mph during high-speed dives, peregrines are the fastest animals in the world. Their diet is almost entirely small to medium-sized birds. Peregrines typically mate for life and nest on cliff edges and tall structures, such as the nest boxes installed at our power plants.

We installed our first nest box at Pleasant Prairie Power Plant in Kenosha County, Wis., in 1992, when 15 captive-produced falcons were released. Our first successful clutch of eggs was produced at the Pleasant Prairie site in 1997. Successes soon followed at our other sites: Oak Creek (1998), Port Washington (2000), Milwaukee (2002) and Presque Isle, Mich., (2011). We also have a nest box at a plant in Wauwatosa that has had activity but not yet produced a clutch.

All the boxes were built by our own staff or contractors. Maintenance is handled by local falcon expert Greg Septon. He visits each site in the fall to clean the boxes and replace the gravel nesting substrate.

“We got involved early in the recovery program when potential sites were needed to release falcons,” according to Mike Grisar, senior consultant in our environmental department. “We were hoping that the falcons would survive and return to the nest sites.”

Grisar says that most of the best artificial nest sites are those located on tall structures along Lake Michigan or major rivers, which makes many of our power plants ideal locations for peregrines.

While peregrine falcons have been delisted as an endangered species in the United States, they remain listed as a state endangered species. The nest boxes remain a critical component to ongoing support of peregrine populations. In 2011, only six of 32 known nest sites were found on natural cliff nests – and two of those had nest boxes. Without the next boxes on structures, peregrines would have little opportunity to reproduce.

For nearly a decade, we have had cameras monitoring activity in our nest boxes, and we recently added live streaming video and upgraded several cameras.

“The new cameras help us remotely view the band numbers on the falcons and watch the activity and development,” says Grisar. “Previously, Greg [Septon] had to visit sites numerous times to get this information.”

We share hourly images of all our nest boxes along with the streaming video from Pleasant Prairie on our website.

Peregrine falcon webcams

Since 1997, our sites have produced 169 peregrine falcons, which is about 20 percent of the entire peregrine population produced in the wild in Wisconsin since their reintroduction. In addition, some of our falcons have been observed in neighboring states, helping to sustain and grow peregrine populations in those locations.