DNR OKs We Energies’ Plans
Power Plant’s Water-Intake Pipe Moves Ahead
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.
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.