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Tuesday, July 13, 2010

We Energies' Valley plant operates under more lenient standards

From an article by Tom Content and Lee Bergquist in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:

Many old coal-fired power plants are shutting down or being upgraded, but Valley escapes change

Many of Wisconsin's oldest coal-fired power plants are shutting down or are being upgraded as regulators tighten standards to improve air quality.

But We Energies' Valley plant - with its twin 400-foot smokestacks that tower over the High Rise Bridge a mile south of downtown Milwaukee - is a glaring exception.

The utility has avoided installing costly pollution controls by capitalizing on the plant's age, its unique role in producing steam to heat many downtown buildings and a court settlement with environmental regulators.

Valley is We Energies' oldest power plant that lacks modern emission controls. As a result, it exposes metro Milwaukee - an area with longstanding air quality problems - to more air pollution.

"Valley is the poster child for the oldest and dirtiest coal plants in the state," said Jennifer Feyerherm of the Sierra Club, an organization that has been active in forcing utilities to clean up operations of old power plants.

We Energies' No. 2 executive said the company has installed equipment to bring down pollution.

"We have not ignored Valley," said Rick Kuester, the utility's executive vice president.

He signaled for the first time that the company is studying the future of Valley and considering adding more pollution controls or switching to a cleaner burning fuel.

Kuester also emphasized the critical role the plant plays in the financial health of downtown Milwaukee by relying on steam to keep heating costs stable. The plant also provides supplemental electricity for the broader power grid on hot summer days when usage is high.

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