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Thursday, May 15, 2008

DNR OKs We Energies’ Plans

Power Plant’s Water-Intake Pipe Moves Ahead

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Riverkeeper Robert F. Kennedy Jr. called it “a giant fish-killing machine,” but the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) just gave a preliminary OK to We Energies’ plan to build a 1.5-mile-long water-intake pipe into Lake Michigan.

The DNR approved a revised draft permit for the water-intake system at the site of the expanded coal-fired power plant in Oak Creek. A public hearing will be held on the matter on June 9 at the Oak Creek Community Center before the permit can be approved formally.

A state administrative law judge required We Energies to revise and reapply for its permit to ensure that the proposed pipe is the best available technology for the plant and will meet tougher environmental standards for new power plants. The construction of the $100 million cooling system is already underway, even though its legality was in limbo. The pipe is part of the $2.3 billion expansion of the coal-fired power plant, the largest construction project in the history of the state.

Environmentalists have opposed the cooling system’s 1.5-mile pipe, which would suck in 2.2 billion gallons of water each day from Lake Michigan and return it 10 to 15 degrees warmer.

Environmental watchdog group Clean Wisconsin, for example, has criticized the water-intake system because it has “much potential for environmental damage.” But Todd Ambs, administrator for the water division of the DNR, said that the temperature of the returned water, as well as the number of fish that would be sucked into the pipe, “would not have a significant impact” on Lake Michigan’s ecosystem.

Ambs said that, historically, this kind of intake pipe is placed close to the shoreline, where about 98% of fish live. In contrast, the Oak Creek plant’s pipe would be extended far into Lake Michigan, where relatively few fish live. “There is no real fish habitat there right now,” Ambs said.

Ambs noted that this system was preferable to constructing cooling towers at the new plant, which he said would require more energy to operate; produce more sulfur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide and mercury; and lose more water through evaporation.

Ambs said the agency felt no pressure to approve the permit for economic reasons. “We are very sensitive to the risk to aquatic life,” he said.

What’s your take? Write: editor@shepex.com or comment on this story online at www.expressmilwaukee.com.

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