Environmentalists are concerned about two new coal-burning power plants to be built on the shores of one of the Great Lakes. Among their concerns are increased air pollution and that the view of the lakeshore will be ruined. The power company says it needs the plants to meet the increasing demand for electricity. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Ann-Elise Henzl
Environmentalists are concerned about two new coal-burning
power plants to be built on the shores of one of the Great Lakes.
Among their concerns are increased air pollution and that the view
of the lakeshore will be ruined. The power company says it needs
the plants to meet the increasing demand for electricity. The Great
Lakes Radio Consortium’s Ann-Elise Henzl reports:
Wisconsin Electric power company has more than one million customers in Wisconsin and Michigan’s upper penninsula. The company says soon, it won’t be able to provide power for all of them with its current plants, and the transmission lines that allow Wisconsin Electric to buy power from other states are over taxed. So the company wants to expand a coal-fired power plant twenty miles south of Milwaukee. That would add two coal-burning units and double the plant’s size and output. Paul Shorter is the manager for site coordination.
“From the infrastructure standpoint, if the state wants to grow and attract business, I think that’s one reason. The other reason is to meet that growing demand of about two percent a year, which is related to telephones, TV’s, VCR’s, computers. We’re always asking for more, and companies are producing it, and they have to be supported by energy.”
On a windy spring morning, Shorter is standing on the roof of the existing plant. As waves crash on the Lake Michigan shoreline, Shorter looks north, pointing out the site for the expansion.
“Now this whole area over here is going to be excavated, for placement of the new facilities, there’s going to be about five million cubic yards of dirt that we’re going to move around on the property. Part of it is to cut down that bluff, to get everything down to the level of this current facility.”
Shorter sees power and progress. But a nearby resident, Ann Brodek, sees something else.
“As you look at the plant now, as it sits on the shore, to me, it looks kind of like a looming, prehistoric monster on the edge of the shore. It just is dirty and huge and on a shoreline of a beautiful lake. This is not where that should be.”
Brodek lives just ten miles south of the plant, near the shore of Lake Michigan. She’s among area residents and environmentalists who’ve been fighting the plant. Ever since Wisconsin Electric started trying to get state approval. Bruce Nilles is a senior Midwest representative for the Sierra Club. He says the expansion would destroy a half-mile of shoreline, that’s home to birds and wildlife. And he says the Great Lakes region doesn’t need more coal-burning plants.
“The proposal is using technology that we created, basically, back in the nineteenth century: grinding up the coal and burning it. We know that releases mercury into the environment in very large amounts. All the new studies are showing that we already have far too much mercury in our environment. And once it’s in the environment, it doesn’t go away. Every lake, river, and stream in the state of Wisconsin has a fish consumption advisory, including Lake Michigan, because there’s too much mercury in the fish.”
Wisconsin Electric defends its plan to build coal-burning units. The company says the units would use new, cleaner technology, and meet the requirements of the Clean Air Act. It also says improvements at the existing plant would cut pollution in half. Wisconsin regulators agreed with the company and approved the plan. Opponents sued. They say the state failed to require a complete application for the plant. They also say regulators didn’t look at alternatives, like a natural gas-fired plant. Last fall, a circuit judge agreed with the opponents of the plant. The regulators and Wisconsin Electric appealed to the Wisconsin Supreme Court, which is where the case is now. The court could give the go-ahead for the plant expansion, or it could throw out all or part of the proposal.
Meanwhile, opponents like resident Ann Brodek are glad their argument is still alive.
“I would think that every bordering state, including Canada, would be speaking out against this thing. This is going to affect everybody, and we’re not going to give up and there’ll be suits. There’ll be lawsuits. We’ll do everything we can.”
The state Supreme Court is expected to annouce its decision by this summer. Wisconsin Electric hopes an answer comes by then. It wants to have the new coal-fired units operating by the summer of 2009, and it’ll take about four years to build them.
For the GLRC, I’m Ann-Elise Henzl.