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Friday, May 6, 2011

Valley plant could switch to gas

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

We Energies plans to take initial steps toward converting its Milwaukee coal-fired power plant to burn natural gas, the utility's chairman told shareholders Thursday.

The Milwaukee utility has been under pressure to address air pollution from the power plant located south of downtown in the Menomonee River Valley.

To comply with new federal pollution rules, the utility has been studying whether to convert the plant to natural gas or to add environmental controls that could allow it to continue burning coal.

"We believe we will need to convert the plant from coal to natural gas," Chairman and Chief Executive Gale Klappa told shareholders at Wisconsin Energy Corp.'s annual meeting at Concordia University Wisconsin in Mequon.

We Energies will file an application with the state Public Service Commission in the second half of this year for an initial project that would be needed for that conversion to take place.

"That first step would be to put in a larger natural gas pipeline that could . . . supply natural gas to that facility," Klappa said. "That will be a significant project. It will require PSC approval, it will require City of Milwaukee approval, and it will require us to update a 1949 natural gas line that runs through the area."

Klappa did not announce a timeline for converting the plant from coal to gas. Utility spokesman Brian Manthey said the utility needs to ensure it has the approval and the ability to supply gas to the power plant before it makes a final decision.

"The (Cleaner Valley) coalition encourages We Energies to move as quickly as possible," said the Rev. Willie Brisco, president of Milwaukee Inner City Congregations Allied for Hope. "People's lives are impacted by Milwaukee's dirty air each and every day."

Built in the late 1960s, the Valley plant is the utility's only major coal-fired plant in Wisconsin that lacks modern pollution controls. A much smaller coal plant in Wauwatosa provides steam to businesses at the Milwaukee County Grounds.

Environmental groups and a consortium of other groups in the Milwaukee area formed the Cleaner Valley Coalition to urge the utility to clean up the plant. In addition, the Sierra Club and Clean Wisconsin challenged an air pollution permit for Valley, saying it doesn't go far enough to protect public health.

"We're very happy to hear that they're taking a step in the right direction," said Emily Miota of the Sierra Club. "The biggest concern now is that they move quickly to make this happen."

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