Friday, January 29, 2016

Quick action prevents potential disaster

Jason Fisher (left) honored by Supervisor Joel Torkilsen.
It was a normal start of the work day for Jason Fisher, gas lead utility employee in our Wautoma office. He was driving down the highway on his way to the office when he smelled something he is trained to recognize … mercaptan, an odorant added to natural gas that smells like rotten eggs.

Fisher was surprised the smell was so strong. He was traveling on a busy four-lane highway with his windows rolled up. He stopped his vehicle at the nearest property and began to investigate.

His sensor alerted him right away that there was a problem at the property. He was able to determine that the home was vacant. He contacted his supervisor as well as the local authorities right away to say the home was filled with natural gas at very dangerous levels.

Fisher and his co-workers were able to shut off the natural gas to the home quickly, while authorities vented the interior of the property. The highway was shut down in both directions as a precaution.

Joel Torkilsen, operations supervisor, says that Fisher did a great job and did what he was supposed to do: “He took action; that’s the key. How many other people drove by and didn’t stop or call to alert someone of the smell?”

“I don’t think I did anything out of the ordinary,” said Fisher. “I smelled gas and stopped to investigate it. It was that simple.”

Fisher was honored by the company for his actions.

What should you do if you smell that “rotten egg” smell?

Gas leak, odor or emergency
Natural gas is colorless and odorless until we add mercaptan, a rotten-egg odor to help detect leaks. If you smell natural gas or have a natural gas emergency:
  • Leave immediately – do not turn on light switches or use phone.
  • Call 800-261-5325 from another location.
Safety tips
Natural gas is safe when properly used. Follow these tips to prevent accidents:
  • Never use your oven or range as a space heater.
  • Have a qualified contractor inspect your furnace, vents, connections and chimneys for corrosion and blockages at least every other year.
  • Keep the area around your furnace and water heater clean and free from litter. Clean or replace air filters in your heating system annually.
  • Keep chimney flues and appliance vents clean and in good repair.
  • Vent gas space heaters to outside. Never sleep in a room with an unvented gas or kerosene heater.
  • Make sure your range top is clean. Wash burners with water and mild detergent.
  • Gas range flamed should be crisp, quiet and blue. Yellow flame indicates need for adjustment.
  • Make sure water heater air intakes, drain pipes, controls and flues are unobstructed.
  • Keep your natural gas meter free of debris, snow, ice and other obstructions at all times.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Police officers learn about electric safety

We Energies employees presenting safety seminar.
From car accidents to fires, first responders often deal with the very real safety threat posed by electrical hazards. Monday, We Energies held a seminar with the Milwaukee Police Department to address electric safety.

Dale Harmeyer, operations supervisor, often assists in safety presentations like today.

“We were presented with the opportunity to provide some training on potential electrical hazards,” said Harmeyer. “Most of the time, first responders get to dangerous situations before we do. We want to help them stay safe so they can keep the community safe.”

Nearly 50 Milwaukee Police personnel and a dozen We Energies employees participated in today’s event.

Electricity safety is not only a great learning reminder for first responders, it’s also important for the public to know.


Power lines
Overhead power lines can carry more than 500,000 volts. Touching one of the lines can provide a path for electricity to the ground and hurt or kill you. Assume all power lines are energized and dangerous.

If you see a downed power line, stay away
Downed power lines can hurt or kill you, even if they do not spark, hum or "dance." Stay away from anything that is touching the line, such as a tree, fence, vehicle, etc. Call 911 and We Energies, 800-662-4797, to report the line. Do not touch someone being shocked by a downed line — you could be killed.

Watch for downed lines after storms
Downed lines are most common after storms and high winds. If you are outside after a storm, be alert for lines that may be hard to see in streams or puddles.

Shuffle – do not run – from a downed line
When moving away from a downed power line, shuffle with your feet together and on the ground. When a live wire touches the ground, electricity travels through the ground in all directions. Voltage lessens as it travels from the center where the live wire is touching the ground. If you run or take large steps, you could conduct electricity from one leg at one voltage to another leg at another voltage.

Downed lines and vehicles
If your vehicle contacts a power line, stay inside until rescue workers say it is safe to leave. Do not touch the vehicle and the ground at the same time. If you MUST leave the car because of fire or other danger, jump away from the vehicle so that you do not touch the vehicle and the ground at the same time. Land with your feet together. Shuffle away, keeping your feet together and on the ground.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Dangerous discovery made by troubleshooter

Troubleshooter Fenon Muhammad was driving on 33rd Street in Milwaukee last Thursday when something caught his eye. He stopped to take a closer look and was shocked to find a loaded semi-automatic handgun lying in the middle of the street.

Fenon had just seen children in the area. It was around 8:30 in the morning, right when kids are going to school. Fearing the gun could easily fall into the wrong hands, Fenon decided to take it to the police station a few blocks away.

“I was hoping it was just a toy gun, but when I realized it was real, I knew I had to take action,” said Fenon.

Fenon’s supervisors are incredibly thankful that he took such quick action.

Troubleshooter Fenon Muhammad (left) 
receives a certificate from Supervisor Fred Treu.
“I would like to recognize Fenon for his care, concern and diligence towards the community in which we serve,” said Operations Manager Eddie Nash. “He took the initiative to notify the Milwaukee Police Department instead of ignoring the gun and moving on about his business. In a time and community where violence is rampant, ignoring the find could have surely resulted in someone getting injured or even worse.”

Operations Supervisor Fred Treu echoed those sentiments. “Fenon very well could have saved someone’s life.”

Fenon received a special commendation from his supervisors under Customer Operation’s Quick Thanks program. The veteran employee will celebrate his 18th service anniversary in March. This is the first time he has found a gun while on duty and hopes it will be his last.

Friday, January 15, 2016

Twin Falls powerhouse completion expected this summer

We expect to begin commercial operation of the new powerhouse at the aging Twin Falls hydro plant this summer. The plant 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 now the powerhouse is being addressed.

The new powerhouse is being built on the Wisconsin side of the Menominee River to replace the current one on the Michigan side. The project also includes additional spillway capacity to meet current Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) safety standards.

Building on the opposite side of the river allows the existing plant to continue generating electricity during the time the new powerhouse is be built.

Maintaining the current powerhouse during construction also allows 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 is adjusted to comply with FERC license requirements. If the existing powerhouse had been removed to make way for new construction, we would have been unable to manage the river through the powerhouse during the two winter seasons of construction.

New powerhouse construction required 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 obtaining the required amendments and permits, powerhouse construction began in 2014. The old powerhouse will be taken down in the summer of 2017.

Drone view of Twin Falls construction site

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Utility work in downtown in Milwaukee

Downtown drivers may have noticed a lane reduction on Water Street near Wisconsin Avenue.

Crews with KS Energy are doing work on behalf of We Energies. They’re making repairs inside two of our underground electrical vaults. Crews are tuckpointing the walls inside the vaults as well as replacing the vault roofs. 

The work is expected to take three to four weeks. In the meantime, Water Street is reduced to one lane in each direction between Wisconsin Avenue and Mason Street.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Crews brave the elements to ensure reliability

On a frigid January day with the temperatures in single digits and wind chills below zero, working outdoors can be downright dangerous. But our crews do so proudly – and safely – to ensure reliable service for our customers.

We caught up with crews in Wauwatosa as they installed new wire over the railroad tracks west of Mayfair Road. The weather wasn’t the only thing that made this particular job challenging. Crews also had to be aware of train traffic. A railroad employee remained on site, giving our crews adequate warning before trains came through so they could drop their buckets and maintain a safe distance from the tracks. The coordinated effort was scheduled months in advance, so the bone-chilling weather wasn’t about to delay work. Instead, crews bundled up and did their best to stay warm. Hear what crew leader Paul Schraith has to say about working in sub-zero wind chills:

Thanks to all of our workers who brave the elements on a daily basis.