Clean Power Coalition-Southeast Wisconsin
Press Release

Community Members Demand that Public Service Commission Deny We Energies’ Rate Increase, We Energies Shut Down Oak Creek Plant

Ratepayers Angered Over Utility’s Continued Use of Expensive, Dirty Coal Plant

By - Oct 16th, 2019 09:38 am

Milwaukee, WI – Members of The Clean Power Coalition of Southeast Wisconsin (CPC), residents living near the Oak Creek coal plants, public officials, organization leaders and other affected residents spoke out against We Energies’ proposed electricity rate increase at a press conference held prior to the public hearings hosted by the Public Service Commission on October 15.

Elizabeth Katt Reinders, the Deputy Director, North Central Region Beyond Coal Campaign for Sierra Club, stated, “We Energies is burdening customers with millions in unnecessary costs by continuing to run an uneconomic coal plant when it could be providing power with far cheaper, and cleaner, alternatives. South Oak Creek costs more to run each year than it earns, and retiring the plant could save customers $75 million annually if We Energies were to replace it with electricity purchased from the market. We Energies needs to address this excessive and wasteful incurrence of costs that this expensive, uneconomic and dirty coal plant is racking up for customers. The utility has an obligation to ratepayers to assess whether it is in the public interest to keep investing in a plant that is continually losing money.”

This economic burden comes in addition to the impacts of the air and water pollution that have been affecting residents living near the coal plants for years. Retired professor Carl Lindner, a coal plant neighbor, said, ”Rather than transition to clean renewable energy which is now much less expensive than coal or pay to purchase cheaper clean renewable energy from the marketplace and save ratepayers $75 million a year, We Energies wants to raise their rates. They must not be allowed to continue their self-serving and hazardous practices any longer.”

Brothers Frank and Charlie Michna are life-long coal plant neighbors. Said Frank, “We’ve been paying for years with our health. We, and the rest of We Energies’ customers, should not have to pay for their poor engineering and management of their facilities. Let the stockholders and high-paid managers pay for their losses.” Added Charlie, “It would be much cheaper shutting down the South Oak Creek plant, which is not making any money, than to keep increasing the rates for the We Energies’ customers.”

Senator Chris Larson, Wisconsin State Senate District 7 which includes Oak Creek, said “My neighbors demand more from the high rates we pay We Energies than bad health outcomes and a power plant that loses millions annually. When other states and countries are setting bold goals to get to 100% renewable as fast as possible, Wisconsin only gets 9% of our utility-scale electricity from renewable sources. Wisconsin can’t afford to be left behind trying to prop up outdated modes of energy production and have among the highest utility costs in the country. Our voices matter and this power plant needs to be responsibly closed.”

Supervisor Steven Shea, Milwaukee County Board District 8 which includes part of the city of Oak Creek, agreed, adding, “It’s 2019, not 1919. It’s time to stop burning coal.”

As an activist pastor working on social justice and other issues in Kenosha’s inner city, Reverend Jonathan Barker of Grace Lutheran Church in Kenosha, sees firsthand the hardships that rate increases place on families living there. “Where is the justice in We Energies asking its ratepayers to pick up the bill on their expensive dirty coal plants?” he asked.

Pastor Dana Kelley, founder and lead organizer of the nonprofit O.U.R Village in Milwaukee, added, “We want our health and our wealth. That is all the We Energies customers of Wisconsin are seeking. But We Energies also wants our health and our wealth. Burning coal to generate electricity is jeopardizing our health. Raising the rates for customers to receive electricity is jeopardizing our wealth. We do not want to sacrifice on either side. We will no longer stand by and allow We Energies to strong arm us by monopolizing the energy industry and imposing unfair rates at the cost of our lives and livelihood.”

The CPC encourages all concerned ratepayers to submit to the PSC a written comment online or via mail by the October 18 deadline. More information is available at www.cleanpowerwi.org.

Background: 
We Energies has applied to the Public Service Commission of Wisconsin (PSC) to increase its electricity rates.  As part of the process, the Sierra Club provided expert testimony asserting that We Energies is asking customers for $75 million more than is fair and reasonable due to costs associated with the company’s aging South Oak Creek coal-fired power plant.

In a separate yet relevant matter, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources announced that following review of extensive public comments, it made two significant changes to the variance terms in We Energies’ proposed Wisconsin Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (WPDES) permit that will require WEC to invest millions more dollars to keep the Oak Creek plant running – a plant that is already losing money.

Testimony at the hearing focused on the need to shut down the coal plant to avoid these unnecessary costs.

The Clean Power Coalition-Southeast Wisconsin will educate the public about the dangers of burning coal on the health of those who live and work in the vicinity of We Energies’ South Oak Creek and Elm Road Power Plants. How we choose to generate electricity has consequences that reach far beyond the return on shareholder investment, affecting everything from public health to a stable climate. When air, water, and soil are polluted, health and life are put at risk. The Clean Power Coalition will promote public debate about the appropriate source of energy for Southeastern Wisconsin. At the same time, the coalition urges We Energies to: 1.) immediately contain the coal dust and other health hazards emanating from the Oak Creek plants, 2.) phase out its use of coal, and 3.) promote rather than obstruct the adoption of renewable energy throughout its service territory.

Clean Power Coalition convening member organizations: Eco Justice Center / Greening Greater Racine / Moms Clean Air Force / NAACP State of Wisconsin Environmental Justice Committee / Our Wisconsin Revolution / Racine Dominicans / Racine Green Party / School Sisters of Notre Dam / Sierra Club, Beyond Coal Campaign / Sierra Club, John Muir Chapter / Sierra Club, Southeast Gateway Group / UW Whitewater Students Allied for a Green Earth (SAGE) / Wisconsin Interfaith Power and Light / 350 Milwaukee. 

Supporting member organizations: Black Leaders Organizing Communities (BLOC) / Citizens Acting for Rail Safety – Milwaukee Area / Gaia Coalition /Interfaith Earth Network / Kenosha Green Congregations / NextGen America / Racine Coalition for Peace and Justice / Racine Interfaith Coalition /  Sierra Club – Fox Valley Group / Sierra Club – Great Waters Group / Water Protectors of Milwaukee / Wisconsin Green Muslims / Wisconsin League of Conservation Voters.

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