Thursday, November 30, 2017

We Energies named America's best at keeping lights on

We Energies representatives at PA Consulting's event, recognizing excellence in electric reliability.

We are proud to report that we've received one of our industry's top honors -- the ReliabilityOne National Reliability Award. Our president, Kevin Fletcher, accepted the award from PA Consulting Group at a ceremony in New Orleans Nov. 29.

"We're honored to be named the most reliable utility in America," said Fletcher. "This national award is a testament to the skill and professionalism of our employees who dedicate themselves to outstanding customer care every day."

This is the third time we've been honored as the most reliable utility in America following awards in 2004 and 2013.

Besides the National Award, we also received the Award for Outstanding Reliability Performance in the Midwest. This is the seventh year in a row we've received top honors in our region.

We have made significant investments in recent years to strengthen the reliability of its network by rebuilding hundreds of miles of electric distribution lines and replacing thousands of poles and transformers. These investments renew and modernize delivery networks, reduce operating costs and improve energy efficiency, all of which will strengthen our position as a reliable electric service provider.

All companies operating electric delivery networks in North America are eligible for the ReliabilityOne Award. The selection is based primarily on statistics that measure the frequency and duration of customer outages. After initial recipients are identified, each candidate undergoes a rigorous on-site certification process. Each year, PA Consulting names six regional award winners and one national winner.

PA Consulting also honored one of our veteran employees, Principal Engineer Val Werner, with an Outstanding Personal Achievement Award.

"Val is a true leader in electric reliability and outage data reporting," said Fletcher. "He has made outstanding contributions to We Energies and the industry. We congratulate him on this award."

Val Werner's career

Werner honored for lifetime achievement

As a child, Val Werner was always tinkering with things. He loved building models and later graduated to electronics kits from Radio Shack.

“I liked seeing how things worked,” said the We Energies employee. “I collected old TVs and would break them down to see how they were built.”

It’s no surprise he became an electrical engineer, but it is surprising to learn that wasn’t his first educational pursuit.

“I have a degree in art history,” Werner explained. “I earned it during my time in the Air Force.”

During his military career, Werner spent time in Europe and had the opportunity to pursue his passion for art. He traveled to world-famous museums and participated in condensed educational programs. Not only did he earn his degree, but he also was named “Outstanding Airman of the Year” by U.S. Armed Forces Europe while serving overseas.

Now, Werner has achieved another national award, this time for his engineering expertise. Werner received an Outstanding Personal Achievement Award at PA Consulting’s ReliabilityOne™ Awards on Nov. 29. Kevin Fletcher, president of We Energies, presented him with the honor.

“Val is a true leader in electric reliability and outage data reporting,” said Fletcher. “He has made outstanding contributions to We Energies and the industry. We congratulate him on this significant award.”

Werner began working at We Energies in 1990, the same year he received his degree in electrical engineering from University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. He is a founding member of the company’s reliability engineering team. He has held key roles in the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) and co-authored numerous research reports. Annually, his We Energies Electric Distribution Reliability report keeps close track of the company’s outage statistics. 

“I like focusing on reliability. There are new challenges every year – it never gets stagnant,” said Werner. “And there’s always new technology being developed which can help us resolve outages more quickly for our customers. Everyone I have worked with over the years has been passionate and professional.” 

Werner calls his career rewarding, but award-winning? “I was surprised. It’s very humbling,” he said. “I certainly didn’t expect it.”

Werner with achievement award.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Don’t let your heating budget go up in smoke

It’s fun to cozy up by the fireplace now that temperatures are dropping, but the crackle and flames can do more than send smoke up the chimney – they can take your heating budget along with it. That’s because traditional, open-hearth fireplaces draw air from inside your home, making your furnace work overtime to replace it.

Here are five tips for more cost-effective comfort:

  • Turn your thermostat down to 55 F when using your fireplace.
  • Open a nearby window approximately 1 inch so the fireplace can draw cooler air from outside instead of warm air from inside your home.
  • Install snug-fitting, well-sealed glass doors to limit the amount of room air that’s drawn in.
  • Consider installing an energy-efficient fireplace insert, which can keep more heat in your home.
  •  Close the flue damper when your fireplace isn’t in use to keep warm air inside.

Find more energy-saving heating tips online.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Entertain efficiently this holiday season

As the holidays roll around, you may be opening your doors more often to your family and friends. Don’t let the winter chill creep in behind them. Use these tips to help keep your home warm and inviting all season long while boosting your energy efficiency.

Keep out cold air
According to the Edison Electric Institute, air leaks can account for 25 to 40 percent of the energy used for heating in a typical home. You can easily reduce this heat loss by adding insulation to your windows and weatherstripping to the cracks around your windows and doors. Both plastic film insulation kits and weatherstripping are inexpensive and available at hardware, home improvement and big-box stores.

Plan before you cook
Last-minute dinner prep isn’t just stressful; it can be inefficient, too. You don’t want to leave an empty pan heating while you finish chopping the last of the onions, and a frozen turkey can tax your oven for additional hours. Make sure to prepare ingredients before they are needed and think about ways to optimize your cooking. If you’re making a single dish, consider alternatives to the oven, such as a toaster oven, slow cooker or microwave.

Know your equipment 
Pay attention to your oven and stove top’s capabilities – they could save you some energy. If your oven has a convection feature, use it to reduce the cooking time and heat required. Check a dish’s progress with the oven light instead of opening the door and losing heat. On an electric range, match pans to burners of the correct size. According to the Department of Energy, a 6-inch pan on an 8-inch burner will waste more than 40 percent of the energy expended.

Automate your cleanup
After the guests have said their goodbyes and you find yourself with a mountain of dishes, don’t resign yourself to an evening in front of the sink. Dishwashers save energy and water when compared to hand washing. You can improve their efficiency further by turning off the heated drying cycle, opening the door and allowing dishes to air dry.

More ways to save money on your energy bill

Thursday, November 16, 2017

We Energies celebrates G.I.R.L.S

At We Energies, we believe in building strong communities, and one of the ways we do that is by supporting organizations like Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Milwaukee that are devoted to serving our community’s children and teens.

We were one of many sponsors for the Boys & Girls Clubs’ fourth annual Celebrating G.I.R.L.S  (Growing Inspirational & Responsible Leaders) event held at the Italian Community Center in Milwaukee on Nov. 9. The night highlighted many of the programs offered to young girls at 50 locations around Greater Milwaukee. From sports and recreation activities to health and wellness, career development, character and leadership, education and the arts, all programs were represented by the very girls who benefit from them every day.

Local Affairs Manager 
Jennifer Bognar-Zierer, 
We Energies, addressed 
attendees at the Boys & Girls 
Clubs' event at the Italian 
Community Center.
One program entertained the crowd with a lively dance to show the spirit of the children who participate at Boys & Girls Clubs. The Davis Club Dance Team, along with their instructor Cedric Gardner, shared with the crowd how members learn dance techniques of various genres and rehearse for live performances. 

This summer, they took second place in their division at the Monsters of Hip Hop Unleashed national competition in Los Angeles. They gained national attention when Gardner was honored as one of eight teachers across the nation in Old Navy’s ONWard! Campaign, and co-wrote, choreographed and performed a song in collaboration with singer-songwriter Pharrell Williams and his I Am Other multimedia collective. The team and Gardner also were featured in an Old Navy commercial, which led them to an appearance on “Jimmy Kimmel Live.”

We have taken a special interest in supporting children’s programming through Boys & Girls Clubs and we strive to empower the next generation of leaders. We believe in creating more opportunities for our local girls and boys to realize their potential. To accomplish that goal, the We Energies Foundation offered to match all donations of $100 or more made at the event up to $25,000. 

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

New holiday light display will be merrier, brighter and more interactive

Whether you make the Milwaukee Holiday Lights Festival an annual part of your yuletide traditions or plan to finally check it off your celebratory bucket list, the display debuting Thursday, Nov. 16, in Zeidler Union Square and running nightly through Jan. 1 is ready to provide you with a completely new and interactive visual experience.
Displays will be lit nightly starting Nov. 16 through early January.
Titled “Downtown’s Yule Lounge,” the display at 4th and Michigan will shine brighter than ever with more than 37,000 LED lights. From wrapped trees lining the park and a larger-than-life living room setting to a giant picture frame and walk-through ornament, the entire 1.2-acre area will come alive at night and provide multiple photo ops for families and friends.

Located adjacent to the We Energies offices along Michigan and Everett streets, the Zeidler Union Square display is sponsored by the We Energies Foundation, which has been a proud sponsor of the Milwaukee Holiday Lights Festival since it began 19 years ago. The display, along with those in Cathedral Square Park and Pere Marquette Park and along downtown streets, will be part of the city’s lighting festivities on Nov. 16, beginning with the City Hall tree lighting at 5:29 p.m. followed by the Milwaukee Holiday Lights Festival Kick-Off Extravaganza at 6:30 p.m. in Pere Marquette Park. The event will include music and performances, fireworks and, of course, an appearance by Santa Claus.

Tunnels and benches allow visitors to interact with the displays.
Visit the Milwaukee Downtown website for full details.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Honoring and valuing the military this Veterans Day – and every day

We join others across the United States in celebrating Veterans Day this Saturday and extend our gratitude to the men and women who have served our nation as part of the U.S. armed forces.

We’re also proud of the ways our employees and the We Energies Foundation support programs for veterans (including the Stars and Stripes Honor Flight, Fisher House Wisconsin and most recently the Milwaukee Homeless Veterans Initiative through Ks for a Cause donations totaling more than $17,000) – as well as the number of employees who personally have served or are currently active military members.

“In my role in Power Generation, we recruit a number of new supervisors and have drawn quite a few from the military,” said Joe Griffin, manager – power generation support, who spent eight years as an MP in the Marines in the late ’80s and early ’90s.

Veteran and We Energies employee, Joe Griffin (kneeling, far right)
 with his unit in Liberia.
He added that veterans work in a number of departments throughout We Energies, so much so that parent company WEC Energy Group will launch a business resource group for employees in early 2018. Its mission: to provide support, networking and career development opportunities that increase the engagement and retention of employees who are veterans, are currently serving in the National Guard or Reserves, or are related to someone in either category.

“The military folks we’ve recruited have done well here,” Griffin said, explaining that it’s often an easier career transition, given the nature of the work and the company’s culture. For example, Navy veterans who worked with boilers and turbines on ships have experience and knowledge in electric power generation. Beyond that, the punctuality, integrity, work ethic, and experience with rules and regulations that military members are known for are valued qualities.

To actively recruit veterans and military members, we:

  • Work with Great Lakes Naval Base in Illinois for assistance with job fairs and other outreach efforts.
  • Have contracts with a number of military recruitment firms. 
We’re also committed to supporting the development of veteran-owned businesses, and in 2016, were proud to receive an award from the National Association of Minority Contractors – Wisconsin Chapter for our supplier diversity initiative.

Interested in learning more about a career with We Energies? Whether you’re active military, a veteran or a civilian, you can find a career with a future.

And for those who have served – thank you.

Monday, November 6, 2017

Love, laughs and tradition: a Cookie Book contributor’s favorite ingredients

A trip to Mila’s European Bakery in Thiensville, Wisconsin, is sensory overload. From a dazzling display of colorful cakes to the enticing aroma of freshly baked bread, a visit here will undoubtedly tempt your taste buds. The folks at Mila’s are usually tight-lipped about their recipes, but they’re sharing two of their favorites in this year’s Cookie Book.

Mila’s was established in 1981 by Mark and Mila Kofman. They moved here from Russia with two small children in the late ’70s in search of the American dream. Today, her daughter Anna Bakalinsky carries on the baking tradition while expanding the brand with her marketing expertise. Mila’s products can be found in grocery stores across southeast Wisconsin. Now, you can replicate two of their recipes: Nutty Cherry Delights and Mila’s Kisses.
Mila's Kisses Cookies and Nutty Cherry Delight Cookies
can both be found in this year's We Energies Cookie Book

Both Mila and Anna have been long-time fans of our Cookie Book, waiting in line every year to get the latest edition. Anna always wondered, “What if we were in there?”

As recipes for this year’s Wisconsin products edition were researched, Mila’s Bakery seemed a perfect fit. ”When I got the call, I was just extremely happy and very honored,” Bakalinsky said.

Deciding which recipes to submit was difficult. The other challenge? “All of our recipes are in 50 pounds of flour and 50 pounds of this, 50 pounds of that,” she said. “When you mathematically convert it to cups and ounces and teaspoons, it doesn’t always work.” She and her team scaled down the recipes for home baking.

“Baking is a very difficult job, and running a business is difficult. You need a good staff, good support and a good foundation. This is what we have at Mila’s” Bakalinsky said. Clearly, the hard work pays off; Mila’s European Bakery was named Business of the Year 2017 by the Mequon Thiensville Chamber of Commerce.

Bakalinsky has some advice for novice – or nervous – bakers who are baking at home. “Baking is an art form that’s different for all. Try the recipe and it’s OK to improvise with a few ingredients – a dash of this and a pinch of that. However, at the Mila’s facility, precision of measurement needs to be exact. From my house to yours, let the cookie baking begin with love, laughs and tradition.”

And if you’re decidedly not a baker, Mila’s will be selling both Nutty Cherry Delights and Mila’s Kisses at their Thiensville store this holiday season.

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Cookies for breakfast? Yes, please!

Who says you can’t eat cookies for breakfast? For Kyle Cherek, it’s fairly common. The host of the Emmy award-winning TV series Wisconsin Foodie travels the state for video shoots, often leaving at the crack of dawn.

“When we film Wisconsin Foodie, it’s often a 5 a.m. call time. You’re up early and the truth is you want something portable and sweet.” Cherek said.

Hence, the birth of Cherek’s “On- the-Road Cowboy Cookies,” which are featured in our 2017 Cookie Book. “It’s a traveling meal!”

Kyle Cherek teams up with Tom La Pierre of MATC's Pastry Arts program.
Follow along in the video below as they make Kyle's On-the-Road Cowboy Cookies.
Not only did Cherek contribute his recipe, but he also was a valuable resource for this year’s book, which celebrates Wisconsin products and provides facts about our state’s agriculture. Cherek shared his knowledge of local farmers and food enthusiasts who would be willing to contribute their own cookie recipes.

He’s excited about the theme, which he calls “heartfelt and retro.” He says it’s shining a light on how people used to bake — with regional ingredients and recipes they grew up with. The We Energies Cookie Book definitely has a place in that historical narrative.

“A book like this is its own time capsule of what we cherish right now, what ingredients are available and what the culture says is yummy. We Energies is really creating these great yearbooks of Wisconsin cuisine.”

Cherek knows lots of facts about food, culture and cooking tradition. “The drop cookie,” he explained, one that is dropped onto the pan rather than cut out in a specific shape, “is a legitimate American invention. It’s jazz, it’s baseball, it’s landing somebody on the moon. We gave it to the world. And when you make a drop cookie, you put in your own little twist.”

One way that he makes the recipe truly his own is by making and sharing the batch of cookies with his family: his wife Nada and their two children. “Honestly, the kids are the workforce,” he said.

The other element that’s specific to Cherek and his family? The healthy ingredients, which he admits he “snuck in” unbeknownst to his kids. His version of the Cowboy Cookie includes ingredients like nuts, flax, coconut, whole-wheat flour and real vanilla.

All these ingredients — and a few traditional ones such as butter, flour and chocolate chips — were set out when Cherek teamed up with Tom La Pierre, department coordinator of MATC’s Pastry Arts program, to make a batch of On-the-Road Cowboy Cookies. They sifted and mixed, then dropped and baked this sweet treat. Even in MATC’s fully equipped teaching kitchen, much of the prep and setup was familiar to Cherek, who favors cooking at home to feeling like a professional chef. “I don’t look good in white,” he joked. “And I feel self-conscious wearing a toque,” more commonly called a chef’s hat.

For Cherek, family and friends are clearly a necessary ingredient to any cooking project. His greatest cookie advice is simple. “Make cookies! Make cookies with people you know and you love,” he said. “And then share them. Cookies are meant to be shared.”