Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Residential customer bills lowest in more than a decade

Over the past 12 months, the average residential combined natural gas and electric bill has gone down. Customers paid about $20 less per month than five years ago and paid less in energy costs than any year in the past decade.

From May 2015 through April 2016, the average residential customer paid an average of $143 per month for their combined We Energies natural gas and electric bill. The average residential customer bill has not been that low during that same time frame since 2004-05.

Low natural gas prices, a mild winter and stable electric rates have all contributed to the recent drop in customer bills. During the just-concluded winter heating season, We Energies natural gas customers paid less to heat their homes than during any winter since 2000.

We’ve been able to keep customers bills down, while continuing to be the most reliable utility in the Midwest for five years in a row. While we can’t control the weather or natural gas prices in the future, we have done our best to control costs so that we can freeze base rates through 2017.

Friday, May 27, 2016

Employees honor Civil War legacy on Memorial Day

Memorial Day is a day of remembrance for those who have died in service for our country. It is celebrated on the last Monday of May. Memorial Day was originally called Decoration Day, and was set for May 30th.

Decoration Day was a day to remember Civil War veterans. On May 30, 1868, it was designated for the purpose of laying flowers or decorating graves of those who died and to arrange services and times of respect for those who had died.

C.K. Pier Badger Camp 1 Milwaukee.
For We Energies employee Brian McManus, Memorial Day is a day he remembers Civil War veterans. He is a member of Col. Hans C. Heg Camp # 15 of Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War, based out of Wind Lake, Wisconsin.

“It’s important to honor our ancestors. It’s a patriotic way to remember,” said McManus.

Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War is a national organization that preserves the history and legacy of veteran heroes who fought and worked to save the Union in the Civil War. The organization has 29 Departments, and dozens of local Camps around the United States.

McManus says his group restores civil war gravestones, cleans up cemeteries, performs honor guard ceremonies, presents at local schools and marches in parades. He joined the group several years ago as a way to spend time with his father.

“My father belonged to the organization. As a child, my dad spent time with his great-grandfather, a Civil War veteran. It fascinated my dad,” said McManus. That veteran was John McLean, who served in the 17th New York Light Artillery from 1862-1865. McManus is the proud owner of John McLean’s Civil War gauntlets, which were knit for McLean in 1862.
Civil War gauntlets.
Recently, the group made headlines defending the care of graves at a cemetery in Muskego. The city was burning tall grass near Civil War gravestones, damaging them in the process. The Commander of Camp # 15 sent a letter to Muskego’s mayor advocating for the final resting place of the soldiers to be treated with respect and honor.

McManus is not the only We Energies employee involved in the Sons of the Union Veterans of the Civil War. Plant operator Patrick Fallon says that the Civil War is important, not only to him, but should be to all Americans as “the outcome of that war confirmed the statement that all men are created equal and ended the scourge of slavery in the nation.” Patrick is the Camp Commander of the C.K. Pier-Badger Camp 1 based out of Milwaukee.

You can see McManus and Fallon participate in a ceremony at Calvary Cemetery, 5503 W. Blue Mound Road, Milwaukee, at 10 a.m. on Memorial Day, May 30.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Eagle banding was a brand new experience

Crews from our Weyauwega service center assisted in the wildlife banding of two eagle chicks in Shiocton last week.

Several employees were on hand to assist in gathering the eagles from their nest atop a white pine tree. Andy Gross, line mechanic, rose to the occasion in a 65-foot bucket truck to bring the young birds to the ground for their wildlife bands.

“That nest is huge up there. It’s got to be six to eight feet across,” said Gross.

The chicks were about 5 weeks old and weighed in at 9.5 and 6.75 pounds. The Feather Wildlife Rehab/Education Center, based out of New London, banded the birds.

Bald eagles are listed as a species of special concern in Wisconsin and are federally protected. The birds prefer to nest in large trees near water.

Eagles and ospreys sometimes build their nests on high structures such as tall trees near water, but a decline of such trees is making another location attractive for the birds – power poles. The problem is that sticks can fall from the large nests, causing service interruptions, and the birds could be electrocuted.

Over the years, we have been constructing nest structures near our poles and transferring nests to much higher and safer structures. In Wisconsin, more than 80 percent of the osprey population nests are on artificial structures and platforms, most of which are built by energy companies.

Line crew leader Mike Haak has assisted in a handful of osprey bandings in the past, but an eagle banding was a brand new experience for him.

“I’m just so grateful to our management for continuing to allow the resources for us to participate in this effort,” said Haak.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Meet Squid and Hecate, newly named Port Washington falcons

We asked for unique names for our power plant peregrine falcon chicks, and you delivered. Our public naming contest produced dozens of creative contenders, but Squid and Hecate earned top honors.

On May 24, Squid and Hecate were officially named and banded at our Port Washington Generating Station. The contest winners who chose their names were on hand to see the chicks in person.

(Left) Dennis "Squid" Falcon in an old navy pic. 
(Right) peregrine manager Greg Septon, Squid and Sara Martinez.
Sara Martinez of Milwaukee chose the name Squid, a common nickname for sailors in the U.S. Navy, in honor of her brother, Dennis “Squid” Falcon, an Iraqi war veteran who survived cancer and a near fatal motorcycle accident. “It just seemed fitting – he’s a warrior,” said Martinez. “He’s a falcon.” And, his last name is Falcon, no less! 

Septon, Hecate and Melissa Barbieri.
Melissa Barbieri of Muskego chose the name Hecate for the other peregrine, the name of a Greek goddess. “The goddess was the patron of justice for the wronged and also the patron of the crossroads, which is where the falcons were before we decided to help,” said Barbieri. We caught this cute picture of Hecate and Barbieri checking each other out. 

Guests from the Wisconsin Society for Ornithology and Riveredge Nature Center also joined us at the May 24 banding. Next week, we’ll be at our Pleasant Prairie Power Plant to band the lone chick born there this spring.

Squid and Hecate.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Oak Creek falcon chicks get 'spaced out'

Carollton students at the Oak Creek falcon banding.
Four peregrine falcon chicks at our Oak Creek Power Plant have stellar new names, thanks to some creative kids from Carollton Elementary School. Fifth graders from Janice Posda’s class got to name the chicks, and they turned to astronomy for inspiration. Their choices are out of this world: Ophelia, Triton, Hydra and Styx, all names of planetary moons in our solar system.

The students got to see the chicks up close Monday on a field trip to the plant. They saw our peregrine manager, Greg Septon, put wildlife bands on the birds. The bands allow researchers to track the falcons throughout their lifetime and keep tabs on the overall peregrine population. Here are some pictures and a video clip from the banding. These guys make a lot of noise for such little creatures!

Greg Septon shows darker feathers coming in, adult plumage.

Ophelia, Triton, Hydra and Styx.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Employees empower girls in math and science

Several women engineers and scientists from We Energies participated in a Girls Empowerment through Math and Science (GEMS) conference at UW-Parkside on May 18.

More than 200 Racine Unified School District middle school girls attended the event to learn and be inspired by women in science and math careers.

"I think it is important to expose young people to all of the opportunities available to them in the professional world, but it is particularly important to expose girls to the opportunities in science and engineering,” said Elizabeth Ehrke, an engineer at We Energies. “This event gives us a chance to show that science and engineering are exciting, fun and open to all. We can also serve as strong female role models to the next generation of female innovators and leaders."

Ehrke’s presentation used the fun of dropping heavy objects on pieces of sheet metal to demonstrate how engineers solve problems. Her goal was to show the girls that they do not need to be an expert or a genius to use problem-solving skills to come to a meaningful conclusion. She says that science and engineering are not about knowing the answer but about finding the answer, which is the fun part.

"I enjoyed all the experiments today,” said Marysol Hernandez from Jerstad Middle School “It’s important for me to know math and science because I want to be a doctor one day."

Other experiments consisted of the students constructing their own water-filtration system, using cups filled with different elements like glitter. Another project examined the impact of fishing on ocean fish population. M&Ms were used to represent the fish, and the students used straws to suck up the M&M fish to visualize a way to prevent widespread fish population loss.

One of the most appetizing presentations was on edible aquifers. Aquifers are layers of rock that can contain or transmit groundwater. In this experiment, We Energies environmental scientists Liz Stueck-Mullane and Stephanie Hinz had the girls use marshmallows and chocolate chips to represent permeable layers and ice cream to represent an impermeable layer.

The event was held in partnership with the University of Wisconsin-Parkside College of Natural Health and Sciences, Girls Inc., American Association for University Women, Racine Unified School District, SAFE Haven and Racine County Workforce Development Center.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Gas employee rescues injured woman

Dorothy Novak, 94, or as she puts it, “closer to 95,” is proud that she still lives in her own home in Princeton, Wisconsin. She describes herself as “stubborn” and admits she doesn’t like asking for help. But last week, she desperately needed it.

Last Thursday, Novak went to mail a letter, just like any other day. But as she reached for the mailbox, she fell and hit her head. Unable to get up, she lay in the street, bleeding badly.

Luckily, We Energies Gas Inspector Mark Strzyzewski was working a job right around the corner. He was shocked when he looked down the street and saw someone lying next to the curb.

“I ran over to help and she was bleeding pretty good,” said Strzyzewski. “She was soaking wet, too, because it had rained, and there were puddles.”

Gas Inspector Mark Strzyzewski.
Strzyzewski helped Novak to her feet and got her back to the house. Despite her insistence that she was okay, Strzyzewski called for help, and local paramedics arrived at the scene. Fortunately, the bleeding stopped, and Novak didn’t have any serious injuries.

“It was excellent timing,” said Novak. “He was there very quickly.”

“I was in the right place at the right time,” said Strzyzewski. “I’d like to think anybody else would’ve done the same thing.”

A few days later, Strzyzewski stopped back to check on Novak. “He is a very nice gentleman,” said Novak. “I thought it was so nice of him to come and check on me. I do appreciate it.”

Novak says Strzyzewski deserves praise for his actions. We couldn’t agree more.

Friday, May 13, 2016

And the winners of the falcon naming contest are......

Hecate and Squid! 

We are proud to announce the winners of our falcon naming contest. They are: Melissa Barbieri of Muskego and Sara Martinez of Milwaukee.

Port Washington peregrine falcon chicks.
Barbieri chose the name Hecate (pronounced HECK-uh-tee), for the Greek goddess of justice. “The goddess was the patron of justice for the wronged and also the patron of the crossroads, which is where the falcons were before we decided to help,” said Barbieri. “I think this name is a testament to humanity righting a wrong in the world.”

Martinez chose the name Squid as a tribute to her brother, Dennis “Squid” Falcon, an Iraqi war veteran. “My brother came home honorably discharged from the U.S. Navy, diagnosed with cancer,” wrote Martinez. “After he beat his illness, he was hit on his bike by a drunk driver and should’ve died. He fought like only a falcon could.” So why “Squid”? It is a common nickname for sailors in the U.S. Navy. (Isn’t it ironic that his last name is Falcon, too?)

We received approximately 200 entries in our naming contest. Originally, the winning names were slated for the chicks at our Valley Power Plant in downtown Milwaukee. Unfortunately, that nest site failed this year. The four eggs that were laid never hatched. So, Hecate and Squid will be reserved for the two chicks born at our Port Washington Generating Station. Martinez and Barbieri will get to meet the chicks in person when they receive their wildlife bands. Our peregrine manager, Greg Septon, will band the chicks on May 24.

Thank you to all who entered our naming contest. There were many creative suggestions. We were thrilled to get such a great response.

We Energies peregrine falcon program and webcams

Monday, May 9, 2016

Oak Creek students following falcon cam

Students at Carollton Elementary School in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, are closely following our live falcon cam. Right now, the cam is focused on the nest box at our Oak Creek Power Plant where four chicks recently hatched. Soon, these fifth graders will get to visit the plant and see the chicks in person. But before they do, they’re learning all about the endangered species.

Greg Septon, our peregrine manager, recently visited the class. He told students how peregrines nearly became extinct after the widespread use of pesticides. He explained the role We Energies has played in the recovery effort. Nest boxes are installed at five of our power plants, where more than 225 peregrines have been born.

The students were very inquisitive, asking a lot of great questions. One student asked, “How long can peregrines live?” Septon knows of one that lived 18 years. “How fast can falcons fly?” asked another student. Septon said they’ve been clocked at more than 240 mph when stooping for prey, making them the fastest animal on the planet.

In a couple of weeks, the Carollton students will visit the Oak Creek Power Plant to watch the chicks receive their wildlife bands. These lucky students also get to name the birds. We got a sneak peak at some of the contenders today, and they’re pretty creative!

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Kenosha students learn about peregrine falcons

Peregrine falcon
Peregrine falcons have a high mortality rate, but those who do survive are tough.

Take Atlanta, for instance. Born in Green Bay in 1996, she later was found shot and had to undergo extensive rehabilitation before being released again in the wild. Atlanta not only survived but also thrived. After a brief stint in Indiana, she settled at our Oak Creek Power Plant where she spent more than a decade and produced 41 young.

“We wouldn’t know any of that without wildlife bands,” Greg Septon, our peregrine falcon manager, explained to a group of curious third graders at Jeffery Elementary School in Kenosha. Septon visited the school Wednesday to share with students the role We Energies plays in peregrine falcon recovery.

The students will be keeping a close eye on the nest box at our Pleasant Prairie Power Plant, not far from their school. That’s where falcon dad PBR, and mom, an unbanded female, are incubating three eggs, which are expected to hatch next week.

The students plan to visit the power plant to watch Septon band the chicks. They’ll also get to name the chicks, and those names will be recorded with their band numbers. The bands will make it possible to track the young to see if they have as prolific a life as Atlanta.

Third-grade class at Jeffery Elementary in Kenosha.

Monday, May 2, 2016

Falcon chicks arrive at Oak Creek Power Plant

The first falcon eggs of the season are hatching at our power plants. On May 1, two eggs hatched at our Oak Creek nest box, and by Monday morning, a third chick had arrived. Our webcam captured the trio being fed. If you look closely at the fourth egg, you’ll notice another chick trying to break through:

This is welcome news for our Oak Creek site because last year’s nesting attempt here failed. Dad Scott and mom Eclipse had four eggs that never hatched. A territorial battle had left the eggs unattended for too long. The pair still got to be foster parents though, caring for two chicks transplanted from another site where a parent was injured. Herbert, another We Energies falcon, is now an educational ambassador at the Wisconsin Humane Society. His offspring, Foster and Wheeler, were banded at the Oak Creek Power Plant last June.

Foster and Wheeler after banding last June.
Meanwhile, we’re still hoping for hatchlings at our other sites. Eggs at our Valley Power Plant were expected to hatch last week, but so far, nothing has happened. Greg Septon, our peregrine manager, says several of the sites he monitors are hatching late this year, perhaps due to the cold weather. We’re hopeful that we’ll see chicks arrive at our Valley and Port Washington sties very soon. Hatching at our final two sites – Pleasant Prairie, Wisconsin, and Marquette, Michigan – is expected to occur a little later.