Monday, May 21, 2018

Peregrine falcon program will continue to soar in Kenosha County, thanks to Ardent Mills

Peregrine falcons have been living at our Pleasant Prairie Power Plant for more than 20 years. In fact, the plant played a critical role in Wisconsin’s peregrine falcon recovery effort. In 1991, it became one of the first nest box sites in the state, and the following year, 15 captive-produced peregrines were released there. A total of 66 falcons have since been born at the site, more than any of our other power plant nest boxes. 

Windsor, CJ, Lisa, and Rimfire

Monday’s falcon banding at the now-retired power plant was bittersweet for our peregrine manager and founder of the state’s peregrine recovery effort, Greg Septon. After 22 annual banding visits to the plant, this was his last. The nest box will be closed later this summer due to the plant’s decommissioning. But Septon’s work in Kenosha County will continue, thanks to a new partner offering an alternative home to the falcons.

Earlier this spring, Pat Hicks, plant manager at Ardent Mills, was reading an article in the Kenosha News, which mentioned the need for a new nest box site. Hicks immediately thought his company, a commercial flour producer, would be a perfect match. Ardent’s Kenosha facility is just a couple miles from the power plant and more than 100 feet tall, offering the height that peregrines love. Hicks called us and offered the location for a nest box for peregrine falcons next year. 

Employee Lisa Rivera, holding the chick she named, Lisa, with Pat Hicks, holding Windsor

On Monday, Hicks got a first-hand look at the program he’s inheriting. He visited the power plant to see four peregrine chicks get their wildlife bands, and he even got to name one – Windsor, a reference to the hype over the recent royal wedding. Windsor, a male, joined brother Rimfire, and sisters, Lisa and CJ, for a group picture, the last falcon family photo at the plant.

The new nest box will be installed at Ardent Mills this summer. After it’s in place, the box at the power plant will be closed, forcing the resident falcons to look for a new home. The hope is they’ll easily find the new option a couple miles to the east. Septon has negotiated moves like this successfully in the past and is optimistic that at this time next year, he’ll be in Kenosha County banding chicks again – but this time at Ardent Mills.

From left: Employee Dave Groshek (holding CJ), Lisa Rivera (holding Lisa),
Pat Hicks of Ardent Mills (holding Windsor), and Greg Septon (holding Rimfire)

Friday, May 18, 2018

Honor Flights provide an emotional experience for veterans and volunteers

Two Stars and Stripes Honor Flights on Saturday, May 5, carried 156 veterans and their guardians to Washington, D.C., to visit memorials dedicated to U.S. service members. The flights were sponsored by We Energies and included the support of employees who wrote letters and volunteered for the event.

“We are so grateful for the incredible support of WEC Energy Group employees who wrote almost 200 letters for our veterans’ mail call packages, and for the We Energies employees who were up before dawn and late into the evening assisting our veterans at the airport,” said Karyn Roelke, vice president – Stars and Stripes Honor Flight. “Several We Energies employees even spent the entire day accompanying a veteran on the flight, giving those veterans a day they will never forget.”

Saluting the veterans

The day started early as 15 We Energies volunteers arrived at General Mitchell International Airport before 4 a.m. They helped with a variety of assignments, including welcoming veterans and escorting veterans and their guardians to the gate.

We Energies volunteers at the airport on May 5.
In Washington, the veterans and guardians visited eight memorials: Vietnam Veterans Memorial, World War II Memorial, Korean War Veterans Memorial, Pentagon Memorial, Air Force Memorial, Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial, Lincoln Memorial and Tomb of the Unknown Solider, where they witnessed the changing of the guard ceremony.

“I was moved by the respect that everyone had for the veterans – thanking them for their service at every stop. What impressed me the most were the young adults and kids that recognized the veterans, shook their hands, hugged them and thanked them over and over again,” said Dave Megna, vice president – Wisconsin system operations, who was one of the guardians from We Energies.

Another guardian from We Energies, Jason Cleaver, senior IT applications consultant, added, “One moment during the trip that really showed how much the veterans were appreciated was at the Vietnam Memorial. There was a class from Mequon that formed a line, and as we walked by, all of the students, faculty and parents thanked the vets for their service.”

“It was an honor to have been the guardian for not only one, but two, female Vietnam War-era veterans,” said Erin Ganzenmuller, environmental consultant – land quality. “One served in the Navy and the other in the Air Force. Of the 156 veterans on the two Honor Flights, only three were women. As a veteran myself, it was especially humbling to accompany them on their journey.” 

Employee Erin Granzenmuller with two Vietnam War-era veterans. 
Added another guardian from We Energies, Brian Roush, outage planner/scheduler – power generation, “As a veteran myself, I was very thankful to have the opportunity to give back to our older veterans as a sign of appreciation and respect. And since the veterans I was accompanying needed a guest guardian, they were thankful for me volunteering to help them. As a result, we all said ‘thank you’ a bunch to each other.”

The veterans – the majority of whom served in Vietnam – received a heroes’ welcome upon arrival in Milwaukee with a homecoming parade in the concourse.

“I was briefed about the homecoming parade at the guardian training, so I thought I was ready. I was wrong,” Cleaver said. “When we made it past the main terminal, there was a wall of people cheering, holding banners and waving American flags.”

Friday, May 11, 2018

20 years as a Tree Line USA award-winner

We Energies earned the Tree Line USA award for the 20th consecutive year from the Arbor Day Foundation.

Tree Line USA is a national program recognizing energy companies for practices that protect and enhance America’s urban forests. This program is a collaboration of the Arbor Day Foundation and the National Association of State Foresters.

The company earned the award by meeting program standards, such as sponsoring tree-plantings and public education programs, maintaining a tree-based energy conservation program, and helping communities and citizens choose appropriate trees to plant near energy lines.

We Energies foresters with the Tree Line USA flag.
“Your commitment to proper tree-care benefits your customers in numerous ways, including providing cleaner air and water, increasing property values and improving quality-of-life. Trees also conserve energy and reduce peak demand, a crucial benefit to customers,” wrote Dan Lambe, president of the Arbor Day Foundation.

The award was presented to our forestry department by Kim Sebastian, regional urban forestry coordinator for the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.

“You are being honored for high-quality tree care. You’re inspiring others with the work you do,” said Sebastian. “The human health connection of your work with trees is a benefit to our communities.”

Visit our website to learn about tree trimming safety and conservation landscaping, and always remember to call 811 before you dig.

Friday, May 4, 2018

Falcon chicks have arrived!

Baby falcons have arrived at four of our power plant nest boxes. Fluffy white chicks are visible on the webcams at our Pleasant Prairie, Oak Creek, Port Washington and Valley Power Plant sites.

Here’s a progress report from each site:
  • Valley Power Plant, Milwaukee: Three out of four eggs have hatched 
  • Pleasant Prairie Power Plant: All four eggs have hatched 
  • Port Washington Generating Station: Two out of five eggs have hatched 
  • Oak Creek Power Plant: Two out of three have hatched 
  • Presque Isle Power Plant, Marquette, Michigan: Four eggs present 
If every egg hatches, it will be a banner year for We Energies’ peregrine falcon program with 20 chicks. That would put the company’s total at well over 250 since 1997. Here's a link to our webcams:

Peregrine falcons remain listed as endangered in Wisconsin after their near extinction from widespread pesticide use in the 1960s. Today, Wisconsin has more than 30 successful nesting sites across the state.

Friday, April 20, 2018

We Energies protects wood turtles

Sunday, April 22, is Earth Day, and we’re celebrating by highlighting some of our environmental initiatives.

Sometimes, we encounter threatened and endangered species during our construction projects. The projects could include building a new natural gas line or installing new power lines. We need to be aware of the animals in our project zones.

Wood turtles are listed as a threatened species in Wisconsin. They prefer to nest in sand banks near rivers and streams, but they also are known to nest along roadsides, fields and gravel pits.

When we have a project that has the potential to disturb wood turtle habitat, we collaborate with the Department of Natural Resources to ensure we are taking all appropriate measures to avoid any impacts to the habitats. These measures include conducting surveys in advance of our projects to ensure our equipment will not come in contact with the turtles. We also have installed exclusion fencing to prevent the turtles from entering our work zones, and we directionally drill to bore underneath turtle habitat to prevent disruption.

As part of our protection and conservation of wood turtles, we assist Turtles For Tomorrow, a conservation program dedicated to habitat management and landowner education about rare reptiles and amphibians in Wisconsin. We have assisted with restoration of several nest sites near our hydroelectric facilities, as well as provided funding for a camera-monitoring and site-management project that will aid in monitoring nest predation, vandalism and hatching success.

Saving Karner blue butterflies

Wisconsin is home to the largest remaining population of Karner blue butterflies in the world. They are a federally endangered species due to their loss of habitat.

We Energies worked with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources to develop and implement the Karner Blue Butterfly Habitat Conservation Plan (HCP). This plan establishes a formal working process to conduct business operations for constructing and maintaining utility lines while maintaining, restoring and creating habitats for the Karner blues.

The HCP is unique in the country. From a utility standpoint, much of the work that occurs along utility corridors results in temporary disturbances to the Karner blue’s natural habitat.

Wild lupine is a perennial plant in the pea family with beautiful pink and blue flowers. This plant is essential to the survival of Karner blues, as it is the only food they eat as larvae. Without lupine, Karner blues are incapable of reproducing. Utility construction and maintenance projects remove brush along corridors, allowing lupine to grow and thrive.

The Karner Blue Butterfly HCP is working so well that it is now focused on recovery of the Karner blue butterfly population in Wisconsin. Ultimately, the goal is to reduce the listed status of the species to “threatened,” or even delisted from federal protected status altogether.

In 2015, We Energies restored more than 50 acres of habitat in the heart of the Karner blue range during the construction of the West-Central Lateral, a natural gas pipeline in Western Wisconsin. Early monitoring and management of this area is indicating restoration is a success. Karner blues have been documented to be thriving in the restored habitat in just a couple of years following initial restoration.

Bald eagle and osprey recovery continues in Wisconsin

For decades, We Energies has supported the recovery of bald eagle and osprey populations. These raptor species once thrived in the Midwest, but DDT use and habitat loss led to dramatic population declines between the 1950s and 1970s. Wisconsin’s Department of Natural Resources (DNR) has watched their development over the last four decades. In 2016, the DNR recorded the highest number of nesting sites since monitoring began in 1973.

We Energies employees assist with
an eagle banding in May 2016. 
The DNR’s 2016 aerial survey results showed 1,504 occupied bald eagle nests, 39 more than in 2015, and 558 occupied osprey nests, 16 more than in 2015. To put this further in perspective, the 1973 survey recorded only 108 eagle and 92 osprey nests.

“The comeback of our great raptors since their near-demise just over 50 years ago is truly remarkable,” said Mike Grisar, principal environmental consultant at We Energies. “Without the hard work of the resource managers and the aid of utility companies, the recovery of these species would certainly not have been so successful.”

Utilities have a major role to play in raptor conservation due to the species’ nesting habits. Bald eagles and ospreys both tend to build their large nests in the tallest trees available – or, on occasion, the tallest utility poles, which can result in power outages and harm to the birds.

We have worked with the DNR and environmental nonprofits since the early 1980s to help raptor populations recover. Our Bald Eagle Protection Plan prevents disturbances to nesting eagles, preserves canopy trees for future nesting sites and offers public financial incentive to report raptor nests on company lands. When we discover an occupied nest near a project site, we evaluate each situation and develop a strategy to avoid impacting active nests.

Our field crews also erect nesting platforms for raptors, primarily osprey. As these raptor diets rely heavily on fish, the platforms are typically raised near water. They stand taller than any manmade structures in the area, encouraging raptors to choose them in favor of utility poles, and they expand nesting opportunities in wetlands, along lakeshores and in other areas with limited mature tree growth. Company crews have installed nest platforms in nearly 30 Wisconsin and Michigan counties across our electric service areas. We collaborate with environmental and wildlife agencies to monitor raptor activity and attach leg bands for conservation research.

Grisar has helped coordinate company efforts for raptor recovery since the mid-2000s, and he has seen their numbers rise almost every year. He is optimistic about their future in Wisconsin and Michigan.

“It is an honor to work for a utility company that has such commitment to environmental stewardship, and it is humbling to know we have made such a difference,” Grisar said.
We are dedicated to keeping our customers and local wildlife safe. With nests weighing up to 200 pounds, eagles and ospreys can damage power lines and cause arcing, power outages and nest fires. If you see a raptor building a nest on a live power line or utility pole, please contact our 24-hour customer service at 800-242-9317.

Friday, April 13, 2018

Answers to common questions about power outages, restoration

Reliable service is a hallmark of We Energies, but sometimes power outages happen. Dave Megna, vice president – Wisconsin system operations, and Duane Miller, manager – gas and electric distribution operations, answer five common questions about We Energies' preparation and response to  power outages caused by storms.

How does We Energies prepare when storms are approaching? 

Duane: We make extensive preparation for storms. We constantly monitor the weather to anticipate what the impact might be. We use several weather services to do that. Based on that information, we make sure additional employees are on standby to respond once outages start to occur.

Dave: The internal communications that go on in advance of and throughout the storm are just as important. We hold quite a few conference calls to prepare both our field and our office resources. We’ve got people who are available to dispatch orders as well as the crews to make the repairs.

How do you typically respond when there is storm damage? 

Dave Megna, vice president -
Wisconsin system operations
Dave: Quickly. We determine if the damage is isolated or widespread. We call our first responders in to make the areas safe and deal with downed wires and hazards first, so that we’re keeping our customers and employees safe. Then our repair crews start bringing customers back in service. If there’s extensive damage, we’ll reach out to neighboring utilities to bring on additional resources.

Sometimes, a first responder can restore service, too, but other times, they don’t have all of the equipment or they need to move on and make another location safe. So, a customer might see a truck pull up to the house, do some work and leave, but the power isn’t restored. That can be frustrating, but in reality it was probably because the first responder couldn’t make the final repair or was needed elsewhere on the system.

Why does the power come back on so quickly after some outages but not others? 

Duane Miller, manager -
gas and electric distribution 
Duane: Outages occur for a variety of reasons; therefore, there are some that are restored very quickly and others that take considerably more time. An example of a quick restoration is when we have a tree branch touching a wire. We can just remove that branch. But with a car-pole accident, where the pole is broken and we have to set a new pole and install new equipment, the outage would take much longer.

Dave: Typically, in the summertime, we have severe thunderstorms that produce a lot of wind and lightning. Wind causes a lot of damage – it causes poles to break, trees to break and facilities to be damaged. It generates a lot of extensive repairs. On the shoulder months – in the spring and in the fall – we might see more lightning storms that don’t cause as much damage; they are faster repairs because a fuse blows versus a wire coming down. Our devices that are in place protect the system from severe damage and limit the amount of repair work required. That’s another reason why power can be restored, in some cases, much more quickly.

How do you determine the estimated restoration time (ERT)? 

First responders address downed wires
and hazards first but sometimes make 
simple repairs. Most repairs require full 
crews and specialized equipment.
Dave: Every outage is different. Our first responders and repair crews have a pretty good idea based on experience how much time it takes to restore the power. If it’s a simple repair, they can figure it’s going to take them half an hour. If there’s a broken pole and downed wires, they can estimate that the job is going to take about five to six hours. Underground circuits can be more difficult because the crew has to find the fault then dig it up to see how extensive the damage is. Overall, we can have a pretty good idea, but sometimes things happen while they’re making repairs, and it takes a little longer.

During a storm, we assess the damage and typically set a global ERT -- a time when all customers will be restored. When we dispatch that work, one of our repair crews will then set the ERT for the work they’re doing.

Will you contact me after an outage is reported? 

Duane: There are several communications that you may receive after you report an outage. If we’re going to extend the ERT by an hour or more, an automated phone call will go out to you. We will also call with an updated ERT if you didn’t have one when you originally called. The other communication you’ll receive is a phone call to verify that you are back in service and provide the cause for the outage if we found one.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Tornado and Severe Weather Awareness Week

Gov. Scott Walker has declared April 9 to 13, 2018, as Wisconsin's Tornado and Severe Weather Awareness Week. Two tornado drills will occur on Thursday, April 12, at 1:45 p.m. and 6:45 p.m. The first drill is to help schools and businesses prepare for storm season. The second drill is an opportunity for families to create and review their emergency plans. Many communities will sound tornado sirens, and radio and TV stations will issue test tornado warnings.

According to the National Weather Service, on average, 23 tornadoes touch down in Wisconsin each year. We work to maintain a reliable power delivery system, but severe weather and other events sometimes cause power outages that require many hours and even days to resolve.

Be prepared and know what to do should a power outage occur. First, call the We Energies electric outage hotline at 800-662-4787 or report your outage online. Any information that you can provide about the source or scope of the outage will support our response efforts. Remember to stay at least 25 feet away from downed power lines or flooded areas, and stay out of flooded basements or rooms.

An emergency kit can help during an outage. Assemble the items you may need and keep them in a place that can be accessed easily in the dark.

Suggested items:
  • Flashlights and extra batteries 
  • Blankets 
  • Water: half gallon per day per person 
  • Canned or dried food 
  • Hand-operated can opener 
  • First-aid kit 
  • Prescription medications 
  • Specialty items for infants, seniors or disabled family members
If you have advance notice of severe storms or other conditions that may lead to extended power outages, consider taking additional precautions:
  • Set freezer and refrigerator colder to help food stay safe longer 
  • Fill vehicle gas tank (gas station pumps do not operate without power) 
  • Get cash (credit or debit cards may not work if power is out) 
  • Charge devices, especially cell phones; consider spare power 
  • Know emergency shelter locations 
  • Get bottled water, other supplies 
Other considerations: 
  • Battery backup for sump pump 
  • Solar power cellphone charger 
  • Generator to power important appliances 
  • Surge suppression devices for protection when power returns 
  • Card or board games to pass time 
  • Dry ice for refrigerator/freezer 
  • Frozen jugs of water 
  • Well-being of friends, neighbors and relatives 
Any changes to the mock tornado drill will be posted on the ReadyWisconsin website.

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Dam Safety Awareness Week, April 1-7

In recognition of Dam Safety Awareness Week (April 1-7, 2018) as proclaimed by Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, We Energies strongly urge recreational and fishing enthusiasts to be safe around dams and hydroelectric facilities.

The week’s purpose is to emphasize the importance of safety near dams and on waterways to help prevent accidents. Most accidents at dams can be prevented by simply staying away from restricted areas and learning about the dangers associated with dams.

Safety precautions include:
  • Obey all warning signs
  • Heed horns or sirens
  • Be aware of rapidly changing water conditions
  • Practice safe boating and swimming
  • Bring a cell phone and contact 911 in an emergency 
  • Wear a personal flotation device (life jacket) 
  • Stay outside buoy lines and away from restricted areas near dams
  • Have a safe escape route planned when near a dam and evacuate at the first sign of danger 

Friday, March 23, 2018

We Energies Foundation, Discovery World partner on new energy exhibit

We Energies and Discovery World recently announced details about a new partnership that includes a $2 million We Energies Foundation contribution dedicated to the creation of a new energy experience called Power On. This immersive exhibition will allow visitors to explore the generation and transformation of many different forms of energy and discover how the transformation of energy drives the world.

Scheduled to open in October 2018, Power On consists of multiple interactive exhibits that enable guests to generate energy and explore some of the important energy concepts that permeate everyday lives. In addition, Discovery World is developing a new STEM-based (science, technology, engineering and math), energy-focused educational curriculum with We Energies and other community partners to complement the permanent exhibit.

We are pleased and excited to partner with Discovery World to invite families and students to interact with the vital force that powers their daily lives, said Beth Straka, vice president – We Energies Foundation and senior vice president – corporate communications and investor relations. Were hoping Power On inspires the next generation of engineers and innovators who will be integral to the success of our industry.

The energy experience will allow guests to engage in all kinds of physical activities that are connected to the most important topics and concepts around energy, said Discovery World President and CEO Joel Brennan. This powerful, often unseen force will become better understood and appreciated through these highly interactive experiences.

Alongside our partners from We Energies, were excited to bring an exhibit to our community that demonstrates how humans have harnessed different types of energy through technological innovations, scientific discovery and persistent curiosity about the world around us.

Families, school groups, and visitors of all ages will encounter amazing energy transformations in this one-of-a-kind kaleidoscopic journey. Children and their families will be able to:
  • Reach out and touch lightning
  • Explore how wind turbines work
  • Discover how to meet a citys energy needs 
  • Play with invisible light energy
  • Experiment with gravitational potential energy
The energy experience will be accessible for visitors of all ages, toddlers to grandparents. It also will provide a unique experience for school groups and engage them directly with science experiments and activities that may inspire interest in STEM as well as the potential career opportunities associated with the energy industry.

Discovery World is Milwaukee’s premier, nonprofit family science and technology center. The 120,000-square-foot center offers fun and educational experiences and features interactive exhibits, Reiman Aquarium, educational labs and programs, and other activities.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Catch up on your bill and 'Stay Connected'

We urge customers behind on their energy bills to catch up before the end of the winter moratorium on utility shut-offs. Customers in significant arrears are at risk of disconnection starting April 16. We are using phone calls and bill inserts to alert customers who are behind on their payments.

Payment options

Customers having problems paying their bills are encouraged to contact us as soon as possible at 800-842-4565. A minimum payment option and flexible payment plans may be available.

Some customers also may qualify for energy assistance through the Wisconsin Home Energy Assistance Program (WHEAP). There is no charge to determine eligibility or to apply for assistance. Customers can learn more about energy assistance at or by calling 866-HEAT-WIS (866-432-8947).

Unfortunately, scammers have been known to prey on customers during this time of the year. A common ploy demands immediate payment via prepaid debit card. We do not solicit payments in this manner. Customers who receive suspicious phone calls or emails should contact us directly to verify the status of their account.

Monday, March 12, 2018

Peregrines populate power plant nest boxes

All five of our peregrine falcon nest boxes on our power plants have residents.

Pleasant Prairie Power Plant
PBR, (b/r) 07/B, is back for his seventh year. He was produced in 2009 at Milwaukee’s
Miller Brewery site. The adult female at the site is not banded.

Oak Creek Power Plant
Michael, (b/r) P/58, is back for a second year. He was produced in 2015 at the Racine
County Courthouse site. The female is Eurus, (b/blu) 48/M, produced in 2016 at the
Georgia Pacific Paper Mill in Green Bay. This is her first year at Oak Creek.

Valley Power Plant
Hercules, (b/r) 60/R, is back in Milwaukee for his fifth year. He was produced in 2011 at Milwaukee’s St. Joseph’s Hospital site. The adult female is not banded.

Port Washington Generating Station
Beasley, (b/r) P/07, is here for a second year. He was produced in 2014 at the
Milwaukee County Power Plant. The adult female is Brinn, (b/r) 84/X, produced in 2012 at Gold Hoist cliff, Split Rock Lighthouse State Park in Lake County, Minnesota. She is back for a fifth year.

Presque Isle Power Plant
An unbanded adult male was spotted in the nest box on March 11. 

You can watch the peregrines on our live nest box webcams, which were upgraded this year to provide higher definition images as well as sound. Access the webcams on our YouTube page:

A peregrine falcon at Port Washington Generating Station's nest box.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Oak Creek Power Plant's fishing pier: a great place to drop a line

Oak Creek Power Plant's fishing pier extends into Lake Michigan to provide anglers a place to cast their lines. The pier is open daylight hours March 15 through Nov. 15 – weather permitting.

Although located on private We Energies property, the pier is open to the public for fishing and provides picnic tables, trash bins and access to a nearby public beach. Swimming, boat launching and fires are not allowed, but the beach welcomes walkers and dogs.

Al Kunda, maintenance planner – We Energies at the Oak Creek plant, uses Lake-Link’s Oak Creek Power Plant pier forum to update fishing enthusiasts on the pier’s status and closures. He noted the pier is subject to closures “at any time due to poor weather conditions, early snowfalls in fall, late snowfalls in spring and extreme high surf due to strong easterly winds,” making Lake-Link a good resource to check before taking up your tackle.

The Oak Creek Power Plant pier is a good spot to catch coho and chinook salmon, and brown, rainbow and lake trout, among other types of fish. The fish are attracted to the change in water current and the slightly elevated temperature of the water discharging from the power plant. On a clear day, fish can be seen swimming in the plant’s discharge channel.

Although we can’t promise a good catch, we can provide a scenic space to try your luck.

To access the pier, take East Oakwood Road from South Howell Avenue, turn onto Fishing Pier Road and then take North Bowl Road to park.

The Oak Creek fishing pier, located near our power plant, is open 
through Nov. 15.
Map to the fishing pier.

Fishing reports
DNR (check Milwaukee South)

Monday, March 5, 2018

Crews receive key to city in Vega Alta, Puerto Rico

Our crews in Puerto Rico are nearing the end of their stay. They’ll land at the Milwaukee airport this Friday after eight weeks away from home. They’ve been restoring power on the island since mid-January, and the people of Puerto Rico continue to show their gratitude in grand fashion.

This past weekend, the mayor of Vega Alta, a mountainous area west of San Juan, presented our crews with a key to the city. The presentation followed a large pig roast organized by dozens of thankful residents. They prepared enough food for all 50-plus We Energies and Wisconsin Public Service employees as well as neighborhood residents. They organized the event days in advance so our crews could plan their work schedules accordingly. 

Restoration remains their top priority and although all are looking forward to coming home, one supervisor tells us employees are struggling with the thought of leaving before all customers have had their service restored. However, New York’s ConEd crews have committed to finishing the remaining work when our employees leave. Our crews have been working with the ConEd crews in the area throughout their stay.

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

We Energies employees help students engineer cities of future

On the heels of National Engineers Week, kudos to those who are inspiring the next generation of engineers. Several We Energies employees, including Sue Clausing, Tony Militello and Greg Schroeder, volunteer their time with Future Cities, an organization that encourages students to be motivated in science, technology, engineering and math and other 21st-century skills.

Clausing’s Future Cities team participated in a national competition in Washington, D.C., Feb. 17 to 20. The team prepared for their time in D.C. by presenting their project at the National Engineers Banquet in Milwaukee at the Italian Community Center Feb. 15.

The St. Alphonsus team at the regional competition in January.

Clausing and her husband, Kevin Walsh, mentor a Future Cities team from St. Alphonsus School in Greendale, Wisconsin. Their group of six eighth-graders was the only Wisconsin team invited to nationals. They earned their spot by winning a regional competition at the Milwaukee School of Engineering in January.  

The St. Alphonsus team designed a city called “Sedai” which means “generations” in Japanese. That was consistent with the competition theme, which encouraged teams to design a senior-friendly city 100 years in the future.

The team working on their model.

Clausing’s team earned special honors for “Best Project Plan.” The students used SimCity to create a virtual city, did research, conducted interviews, wrote an essay, created a physical model and presented at regional and national competitions to panels of judges.

“The program is really great because it exposes students to different STEM fields, project planning, and presentation and research skills,” said Clausing.

Friday, February 16, 2018

Be like an Olympian; share your holiday traditions in We Energies Cookie Book

If you didn’t make it to 2018 Winter Games in Pyeongchang, don’t worry; there’s still a chance to be like an Olympian.

Five-time gold medal-winning retired Olympic speed skater Bonnie Blair shared her recipe for “Killer Brownies” in the 2016 Wisconsin Heritage Edition of the We Energies Cookie Book. Now it’s your turn to submit your favorite recipes from a past Cookie Book along with a favorite holiday tradition or memory. Blair’s favorite memory of her brownies is how they got their name – her sister tried them and called them “absolutely killer brownies,” and the name stuck.

So, whether your favorite holiday recipe comes from a vintage Cookie Book, came out just last year or is Bonnie Blair’s Killer Brownies, submit it along with your favorite holiday baking memory on our online form

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Dr. King Speech Contest winners featured at Bucks game

To celebrate Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Black History Month, the Milwaukee Bucks turned to the youth of our community at the Feb. 2 game with the New York Knicks at the BMO Harris Bradley Center. At halftime, first-, second- and third-place winners of each of the six grade divisions of the We Energies Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Speech Contest were honored on the court.
Students were escorted onto the court by the Milwaukee Bucks Dancers.
Eleventh-grader Ariana Cawthorn of Eastbrook Academy, and first-place winner of the grade 11-12 division, addressed the crowd.
First-place winner of the 11-12 division Ariana Cawthorn.
“Some believe silence keeps problems at bay, and that if no one speaks them, maybe they’ll the problem will go away. But no, I stand here to testify that that is not the way,” she said. Her remarks elaborated on this year’s contest theme, “Take a stand for truth and justice.”

Fans congratulated Cawthorn on her encouraging words as she made her way back to her seat in the arena.

We Energies has sponsored the speech contest for more than 30 years. This is the fourth season that the winning students have been honored at a Bucks game. 
Students from the K-2 and 3-4 divisions. 

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Crews mark third week in Puerto Rico

Our crews are wrapping up their third week of power restoration in Puerto Rico and reporting good progress. They continue to work in the San Juan area, where they’ve been able to restore several neighborhoods that had been without electricity since September.

“The people of Puerto Rico are so appreciative,” said Bruce Sasman, who’s been leading crews from both We Energies and sister company Wisconsin Public Service. “Everywhere we go, people are waving to us and giving us a thumbs up. When we restore power, people are coming out of their homes, crying with joy and hugging our line mechanics.” 

Crews have been staying in a hotel that sustained hurricane damage and remains closed to the public. Their day starts with breakfast at 5 a.m. Crews are then bused to a staging area to get their trucks and equipment. They’re typically heading to their worksites by 6:45 a.m. and then spend about 12 hours working in the field. They debrief around 6:45 p.m., take the bus back to the hotel, eat dinner and go to bed ‒ for six weeks.

“It’s exhausting, but the crews are getting encouragement from the residents of Puerto Rico,” said Sasman. “That’s their motivation.” Listen to the cheers from school children after crews restored power at their school:

Aside from the overwhelming support from Puerto Ricans, our crews also have received compliments from line crews from Con Edison, an energy company based in New York City. On more than one occasion, Con Edison workers have told our employees how impressed they are by their determination to repair outages and restore customers in all circumstances.

“They actually said, ‘We’ve seen their abilities, and we want them to be working with us,’” Sasman said. “People think we really do a good job. People really want to work with us. They hold us in very high regard, and that’s really nice to see.”

Students pose with our crews after power is restored at their school.
Residents pose with our crews. Note photo bomber on roof.
The work conditions have been challenging and dangerous. Sasman relayed details of one job that took workers four days to complete. There was more than a mile of cable to restring on mountainous terrain. The crew worked along a narrow, one-lane road which had to be shut down to ensure workers’ safety. 

“While a language barrier exists, the compassion barrier does not,” said Sasman. “People are opening up schools and churches for us, feeding our crews. It’s emotional, and it’s very rewarding.”

Friday, January 19, 2018

From thankful residents to curious critters, crews see a lot during first week in Puerto Rico

As our crews wrap up their first week on the ground in Puerto Rico, their hard work is being rewarded by the grateful residents of the island. Many residents are coming out of their homes to greet our workers and shake their hands. One resident, a World War II veteran, even delivered cold water and cookies to our crews.                               
Employee Tom Guetzke thanks a resident
who brought crews cookies and cold water.
Restoring power has been an emotional experience for both the residents and crews. “Our crews are really determined to get the locals’ lights on,” said Bruce Sasman, crew supervisor.

Some people have been without power for more than three months since Hurricane Maria hit the island. Current estimates suggest more than 40 percent of residents are still in the dark.

“Even with all the challenges of tight spaces and jungle-type vegetation, the crews have gotten to be very innovative,” said Sasman. Crews have navigated the island’s narrow streets and rugged terrain and come upon challenges that they have never seen before, like navigating close encounters with iguanas at the top of power poles.
Employee Kevin Kosnicki works around an iguana.
Kevin Fletcher, president of our Wisconsin utilities, said of our crews, “I’m extremely proud of our crews and I think they are going to do a tremendous job. They are going to set a standard. Our folks are known for doing high-quality work from a safety and professional standpoint, and I know they will stand out among the other gentlemen and ladies who are down there as well.”

Puerto Rico residents have been taking to our social media pages to express their thanks:

We Energies employees inspire girls in math and science

At this year’s annual Girls Empowered by Math and Science (GEMS) Conference at UW-Parkside, keynote speaker and NASA engineer Florence Tan spoke to the importance of gravity assists – ways scientists further propel a craft along its trajectory in space missions. She explained to the more than 200 Racine-area middle school girls in attendance that this can be a metaphor for life; that their teachers, parents, inspirations and even challenges act as “gravity assists” along the trajectory of their aspirations and careers, helping them to move forward.

Tan’s words inspired students to take on a day of workshops with topics ranging from forensic science to coding to the various STEM careers available in the energy industry. Along with other organizations, We Energies employees hosted workshops in which students viewed food demonstrations of everyday science, built and designed bridges, made pencils out of graphite and clay, and built their own batteries from household objects.

Alison Castronovo and Melissa Schultz, We Energies employees in the environmental department, hosted the “Penny Power” workshop. They helped students construct batteries out of pennies, washers and mounting board soaked in a water, salt and vinegar solution to familiarize the students with current electricity. They also led an experiment with static electricity that involved balloons, wool and cereal.

Students used household objects to explore how electricity works.

“This year, we decided to highlight what electricity is, how it is made and distributed, and how it can be stored,” said Castronovo, who has led a workshop at the conference for the past three of its five years. She values this work because of the importance of encouraging women in her field. “I recently read that the energy industry is among the least gender-diverse industries in the United States. It’s important for our company to support girls’ involvement in math and science education and potentially spark an interest in our field to help close that gap.”

Environmental Engineer Alison Castronovo taught students about electricity.
Castronovo echoed Tan’s statements as her trajectory to being an environmental engineer had gravity assists of its own. She credits her father who was a chemistry teacher, her sixth-grade teacher and an internship that provided her with real-world energy company experience with helping her solidify her decision to work in the energy sector on environmental projects.

And now, Castronovo is paying it forward by taking her role as a gravity assist in the girls’ journey seriously. “The GEMS Conference gives us an opportunity to interface with the middle school girls, encourage them to stay engaged in math and science and to be positive role models,” she said.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

An irruption of owls leads to rescue, rehabilitation, release

In late November, a snowy owl was found in the parking lot at our headquarters in downtown Milwaukee. A month and a half later, the owl was released in Port Washington thanks to efforts of the Wisconsin Humane Society’s Wildlife Rehabilitation Center. 

The owl, named Iglaak (an Inuit word meaning “traveler” or “visitor”) by the Wisconsin Humane Society, was treated for parasites, malnourishment and a fractured toe then released into the wild by Scott Diehl, wildlife director at the Wisconsin Humane Society.

“I tossed Iglaak into the air and let him go,” Diehl said. “He took off like a champ, flew and flew then soared and then had a nice landing out in the field.”

Scott Diehl, wildlife director at the Wisconsin Humane Society, prepares to release Iglaak the snowy owl in Port Washington. (Photo courtesy of the Wisconsin Humane Society)
Diehl added that while it was a bit chilly for the few spectators and media crews, the temperature was perfect for Iglaak. “It’s never too cold to release a snowy owl,” he said.

Diehl and his team choose the date and location for these types of releases carefully, factoring in the bird’s health, weather and ideal habitat for the release to be successful. The site in Port Washington, the Forest Beach Migratory Preserve, is a large expanse of open space with tundra-like features and gave Iglaak access to the shoreline for optimal waterfowl hunting.

Many snowy owls have been spotted in Wisconsin and across the Northeast and Midwest this winter. This phenomenon of increased snowy owl sightings is called an irruption. During an irruption, more owls fly farther south than normal. Most of the owls are juveniles in search of food and habitat.

In November, We Energies employees found Iglaak in a company 
parking lot and contacted the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.
“It’s really fascinating what’s occurring,” said Mike Grisar, principal environmental consultant for We Energies. “Just before the new year, there were over 200 individual snowies sighted in Wisconsin. We know this because of surveys conducted by Project Snowstorm that include putting transmitters on and tagging the birds. To have one show up on our doorstep, in our parking lot, was really an exciting day.”

Grisar recalls when snowy owl sightings were rare. He notes that people who research snowy owls in depth don’t yet know why these irruptions occur, but speculations include an increase in population, or the result of laws that make it illegal to kill birds of prey.

Through his work, Diehl has seen four snowy owls this year, including Iglaak, who is the only one to survive.

“The effort to rehabilitate any creature is a community effort,” Diehl said. “It starts with those who report the animal, the volunteers who transport it, and the people and organizations who support our work and help us follow through on the original compassion of saving the bird.”

To learn more about snowy owls, visit Project Snowstorm.

To learn more about the Wisconsin Humane Society Wildlife Rehabilitation Center, visit them on Facebook.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Wisconsin utility crews to depart for Puerto Rico Jan. 13

Three months after Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico, more than 40 percent of residents are still in the dark. Thousands of power restoration workers from U.S. energy companies are answering the island’s need for assistance, including about 35 We Energies and 25 Wisconsin Public Service (WPS) employees. The two companies will work together to respond to the widespread loss of power in Puerto Rico. They depart for an estimated six-week assignment in the San Juan area this Saturday, Jan. 13, from General Mitchell International Airport in Milwaukee.

Supervisors from We Energies and WPS already have made the trip to the island and are preparing for crews to arrive. Vehicles and equipment from both companies were sent by barge earlier this month. Crews plan to work 12- to 16-hour days restoring power to the island.

While they face uncertainty, unfamiliar conditions and terrain, and devastation of infrastructure like they’ve never seen, the employees are excited to answer the call to service.
We Energies and WPS supervisors departed for Puerto Rico from Milwaukee on Jan. 9. 

 “An opportunity like this – to go to an island and help restore power – has never come up before,” said Craig Kahoun, operations manager – WPS, in an interview with a Green Bay news station.

While crews from We Energies and WPS responded to Hurricane Irma in Florida and Georgia last year and to other hurricanes in years past, this is the first time the companies have performed restoration efforts outside of the continental U.S.

Peter Klafka, operations supervisor – We Energies, was interviewed by a Milwaukee news station and highlighted the importance of safety while on this trip. “There’re going to be a lot of hazardous conditions we’re going to encounter down there. The crews’ safety is the most important and the biggest challenge we’re going to have to face,” he said. 

“Everything we’ll work on there – it’s devastated,” Kahoun said. “So we’re going to have a lot of reconstruction.” The hurricane caused extensive damage to electric infrastructure in Puerto Rico. Additionally, accessing areas in need of restoration is further complicated by the islands narrow streets and rugged terrain.

The crews are willing to take on all of these challenges. Chris Vanlaarhoven, a We Energies lead line mechanic in Iron Mountain, is ready to start improving conditions for the people of Puerto Rico: “It’s a good feeling on our part, and I’m sure the people will be very happy down there once we turn the power back on for them.”