We Energies, a utility serving Wisconsin and Michigan's Upper Peninsula, is facing legal challenges on numerous fronts to its proposed "Power the Future" project, a $2.15 billion proposal to develop Wisconsin's first coal power plant to be built in decades. We Energies is battling state agencies over air and water permits, as a docket of lawsuits have been filed attempting to overturn the permits and derail the project. The company's battles have attracted nationwide attention and have implications for the development of similar coal-fired projects in other states.
In 2004, Wisconsin state utility regulators approved We Energies' plan to build two 615 megawatt coal base load plants at its Oak Creek generating plant, as part of its plan to add 2,300 megawatt of fuel-diverse power to its service territory. The project development hinges on the construction permit decision expected soon by Wisconsin's Supreme Court. The court is reviewing a decision by the Dane County Circuit Court, which vacated the construction approval issued by the Wisconsin Public Service Commission. The Circuit Court Judge agreed with the plaintiffs' argument that regulators failed to follow state statues that require thorough accounting of other energy alternatives, specifically renewable projects, before approving any more coal power supply. Sources within We Energies say that a decision against the company will effectively kill the project. In order to meet contract deadlines, We Energies needs a ruling from the Supreme Court by mid-May.
In addition, We Energies is also defending air permits awarded to it by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR). In that lawsuit, challengers argue that We Energies should be required by the Clean Air Act's lowest achievable emission rate and best available control technology requirements to evaluate the use of Integrated Gasification Combined Cycle (IGCC), a state-of-the-art technology that produces electricity from gasified coal and can significantly reduce air emissions. DNR officials argue that federal technology requirements are not relevant because IGCC is a fundamentally different type of energy production process, rather than emissions control. We Energies is also facing a lawsuit filed on April 25 in Dane County Circuit Court by the environmental watchdog group Clean Wisconsin and consumer-products giant S.C. Johnson that seeks to overturn a water discharge permit issued by the Wisconsin DNR. Plaintiffs argue that the intake system, using 2.2 billion gallons of water from Lake Michigan, will kill billions of fish and disrupt the aquatic ecosystem in the lake. These groups say DNR erroneously classified the cooling system as an existing facility, thereby subjecting it to less stringent regulations. [NEW MATTER]