Friday, April 20, 2018

We Energies protects wood turtles

Sunday, April 22, is Earth Day, and we’re celebrating by highlighting some of our environmental initiatives.

Sometimes, we encounter threatened and endangered species during our construction projects. The projects could include building a new natural gas line or installing new power lines. We need to be aware of the animals in our project zones.

Wood turtles are listed as a threatened species in Wisconsin. They prefer to nest in sand banks near rivers and streams, but they also are known to nest along roadsides, fields and gravel pits.

When we have a project that has the potential to disturb wood turtle habitat, we collaborate with the Department of Natural Resources to ensure we are taking all appropriate measures to avoid any impacts to the habitats. These measures include conducting surveys in advance of our projects to ensure our equipment will not come in contact with the turtles. We also have installed exclusion fencing to prevent the turtles from entering our work zones, and we directionally drill to bore underneath turtle habitat to prevent disruption.

As part of our protection and conservation of wood turtles, we assist Turtles For Tomorrow, a conservation program dedicated to habitat management and landowner education about rare reptiles and amphibians in Wisconsin. We have assisted with restoration of several nest sites near our hydroelectric facilities, as well as provided funding for a camera-monitoring and site-management project that will aid in monitoring nest predation, vandalism and hatching success.

Saving Karner blue butterflies

Wisconsin is home to the largest remaining population of Karner blue butterflies in the world. They are a federally endangered species due to their loss of habitat.

We Energies worked with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources to develop and implement the Karner Blue Butterfly Habitat Conservation Plan (HCP). This plan establishes a formal working process to conduct business operations for constructing and maintaining utility lines while maintaining, restoring and creating habitats for the Karner blues.

The HCP is unique in the country. From a utility standpoint, much of the work that occurs along utility corridors results in temporary disturbances to the Karner blue’s natural habitat.

Wild lupine is a perennial plant in the pea family with beautiful pink and blue flowers. This plant is essential to the survival of Karner blues, as it is the only food they eat as larvae. Without lupine, Karner blues are incapable of reproducing. Utility construction and maintenance projects remove brush along corridors, allowing lupine to grow and thrive.

The Karner Blue Butterfly HCP is working so well that it is now focused on recovery of the Karner blue butterfly population in Wisconsin. Ultimately, the goal is to reduce the listed status of the species to “threatened,” or even delisted from federal protected status altogether.

In 2015, We Energies restored more than 50 acres of habitat in the heart of the Karner blue range during the construction of the West-Central Lateral, a natural gas pipeline in Western Wisconsin. Early monitoring and management of this area is indicating restoration is a success. Karner blues have been documented to be thriving in the restored habitat in just a couple of years following initial restoration.

Bald eagle and osprey recovery continues in Wisconsin

For decades, We Energies has supported the recovery of bald eagle and osprey populations. These raptor species once thrived in the Midwest, but DDT use and habitat loss led to dramatic population declines between the 1950s and 1970s. Wisconsin’s Department of Natural Resources (DNR) has watched their development over the last four decades. In 2016, the DNR recorded the highest number of nesting sites since monitoring began in 1973.

We Energies employees assist with
an eagle banding in May 2016. 
The DNR’s 2016 aerial survey results showed 1,504 occupied bald eagle nests, 39 more than in 2015, and 558 occupied osprey nests, 16 more than in 2015. To put this further in perspective, the 1973 survey recorded only 108 eagle and 92 osprey nests.

“The comeback of our great raptors since their near-demise just over 50 years ago is truly remarkable,” said Mike Grisar, principal environmental consultant at We Energies. “Without the hard work of the resource managers and the aid of utility companies, the recovery of these species would certainly not have been so successful.”

Utilities have a major role to play in raptor conservation due to the species’ nesting habits. Bald eagles and ospreys both tend to build their large nests in the tallest trees available – or, on occasion, the tallest utility poles, which can result in power outages and harm to the birds.

We have worked with the DNR and environmental nonprofits since the early 1980s to help raptor populations recover. Our Bald Eagle Protection Plan prevents disturbances to nesting eagles, preserves canopy trees for future nesting sites and offers public financial incentive to report raptor nests on company lands. When we discover an occupied nest near a project site, we evaluate each situation and develop a strategy to avoid impacting active nests.

Our field crews also erect nesting platforms for raptors, primarily osprey. As these raptor diets rely heavily on fish, the platforms are typically raised near water. They stand taller than any manmade structures in the area, encouraging raptors to choose them in favor of utility poles, and they expand nesting opportunities in wetlands, along lakeshores and in other areas with limited mature tree growth. Company crews have installed nest platforms in nearly 30 Wisconsin and Michigan counties across our electric service areas. We collaborate with environmental and wildlife agencies to monitor raptor activity and attach leg bands for conservation research.

Grisar has helped coordinate company efforts for raptor recovery since the mid-2000s, and he has seen their numbers rise almost every year. He is optimistic about their future in Wisconsin and Michigan.

“It is an honor to work for a utility company that has such commitment to environmental stewardship, and it is humbling to know we have made such a difference,” Grisar said.
We are dedicated to keeping our customers and local wildlife safe. With nests weighing up to 200 pounds, eagles and ospreys can damage power lines and cause arcing, power outages and nest fires. If you see a raptor building a nest on a live power line or utility pole, please contact our 24-hour customer service at 800-242-9317.

Friday, April 13, 2018

Answers to common questions about power outages, restoration

Reliable service is a hallmark of We Energies, but sometimes power outages happen. Dave Megna, vice president – Wisconsin system operations, and Duane Miller, manager – gas and electric distribution operations, answer five common questions about We Energies' preparation and response to  power outages caused by storms.

How does We Energies prepare when storms are approaching? 
Duane: We make extensive preparation for storms. We constantly monitor the weather to anticipate what the impact might be. We use several weather services to do that. Based on that information, we make sure additional employees are on standby to respond once outages start to occur.

Dave: The internal communications that go on in advance of and throughout the storm are just as important. We hold quite a few conference calls to prepare both our field and our office resources. We’ve got people who are available to dispatch orders as well as the crews to make the repairs.

How do you typically respond when there is storm damage? 
Dave Megna, vice president -
Wisconsin system operations
Dave: Quickly. We determine if the damage is isolated or widespread. We call our first responders in to make the areas safe and deal with downed wires and hazards first, so that we’re keeping our customers and employees safe. Then our repair crews start bringing customers back in service. If there’s extensive damage, we’ll reach out to neighboring utilities to bring on additional resources.

Sometimes, a first responder can restore service, too, but other times, they don’t have all of the equipment or they need to move on and make another location safe. So, a customer might see a truck pull up to the house, do some work and leave, but the power isn’t restored. That can be frustrating, but in reality it was probably because the first responder couldn’t make the final repair or was needed elsewhere on the system.

Why does the power come back on so quickly after some outages but not others? 
Duane Miller, manager -
gas and electric distribution 
Duane: Outages occur for a variety of reasons; therefore, there are some that are restored very quickly and others that take considerably more time. An example of a quick restoration is when we have a tree branch touching a wire. We can just remove that branch. But with a car-pole accident, where the pole is broken and we have to set a new pole and install new equipment, the outage would take much longer.

Dave: Typically, in the summertime, we have severe thunderstorms that produce a lot of wind and lightning. Wind causes a lot of damage – it causes poles to break, trees to break and facilities to be damaged. It generates a lot of extensive repairs. On the shoulder months – in the spring and in the fall – we might see more lightning storms that don’t cause as much damage; they are faster repairs because a fuse blows versus a wire coming down. Our devices that are in place protect the system from severe damage and limit the amount of repair work required. That’s another reason why power can be restored, in some cases, much more quickly.

How do you determine the estimated restoration time (ERT)? 
First responders address downed wires
and hazards first but sometimes make 
simple repairs. Most repairs require full 
crews and specialized equipment.
Dave: Every outage is different. Our first responders and repair crews have a pretty good idea based on experience how much time it takes to restore the power. If it’s a simple repair, they can figure it’s going to take them half an hour. If there’s a broken pole and downed wires, they can estimate that the job is going to take about five to six hours. Underground circuits can be more difficult because the crew has to find the fault then dig it up to see how extensive the damage is. Overall, we can have a pretty good idea, but sometimes things happen while they’re making repairs, and it takes a little longer.

During a storm, we assess the damage and typically set a global ERT -- a time when all customers will be restored. When we dispatch that work, one of our repair crews will then set the ERT for the work they’re doing.

Will you contact me after an outage is reported? 
Duane: There are several communications that you may receive after you report an outage. If we’re going to extend the ERT by an hour or more, an automated phone call will go out to you. We will also call with an updated ERT if you didn’t have one when you originally called. The other communication you’ll receive is a phone call to verify that you are back in service and provide the cause for the outage if we found one.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Tornado and Severe Weather Awareness Week

Gov. Scott Walker has declared April 9 to 13, 2018, as Wisconsin's Tornado and Severe Weather Awareness Week. Two tornado drills will occur on Thursday, April 12, at 1:45 p.m. and 6:45 p.m. The first drill is to help schools and businesses prepare for storm season. The second drill is an opportunity for families to create and review their emergency plans. Many communities will sound tornado sirens, and radio and TV stations will issue test tornado warnings.

According to the National Weather Service, on average, 23 tornadoes touch down in Wisconsin each year. We work to maintain a reliable power delivery system, but severe weather and other events sometimes cause power outages that require many hours and even days to resolve.

Be prepared and know what to do should a power outage occur. First, call the We Energies electric outage hotline at 800-662-4787 or report your outage online. Any information that you can provide about the source or scope of the outage will support our response efforts. Remember to stay at least 25 feet away from downed power lines or flooded areas, and stay out of flooded basements or rooms.

An emergency kit can help during an outage. Assemble the items you may need and keep them in a place that can be accessed easily in the dark.

Suggested items:
  • Flashlights and extra batteries 
  • Blankets 
  • Water: half gallon per day per person 
  • Canned or dried food 
  • Hand-operated can opener 
  • First-aid kit 
  • Prescription medications 
  • Specialty items for infants, seniors or disabled family members
If you have advance notice of severe storms or other conditions that may lead to extended power outages, consider taking additional precautions:
  • Set freezer and refrigerator colder to help food stay safe longer 
  • Fill vehicle gas tank (gas station pumps do not operate without power) 
  • Get cash (credit or debit cards may not work if power is out) 
  • Charge devices, especially cell phones; consider spare power 
  • Know emergency shelter locations 
  • Get bottled water, other supplies 
Other considerations: 
  • Battery backup for sump pump 
  • Solar power cellphone charger 
  • Generator to power important appliances 
  • Surge suppression devices for protection when power returns 
  • Card or board games to pass time 
  • Dry ice for refrigerator/freezer 
  • Frozen jugs of water 
  • Well-being of friends, neighbors and relatives 
Any changes to the mock tornado drill will be posted on the ReadyWisconsin website.

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Dam Safety Awareness Week, April 1-7

In recognition of Dam Safety Awareness Week (April 1-7, 2018) as proclaimed by Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, We Energies strongly urge recreational and fishing enthusiasts to be safe around dams and hydroelectric facilities.

The week’s purpose is to emphasize the importance of safety near dams and on waterways to help prevent accidents. Most accidents at dams can be prevented by simply staying away from restricted areas and learning about the dangers associated with dams.

Safety precautions include:
  • Obey all warning signs
  • Heed horns or sirens
  • Be aware of rapidly changing water conditions
  • Practice safe boating and swimming
  • Bring a cell phone and contact 911 in an emergency 
  • Wear a personal flotation device (life jacket) 
  • Stay outside buoy lines and away from restricted areas near dams
  • Have a safe escape route planned when near a dam and evacuate at the first sign of danger