WEC Energy Group announces coal-free generation by 2035, including for newer extension of Oak Creek plantPlan relies on converting the site to gas generation
November 3, 2021 – Nearly one year ago the Clean Power Coalition of Southeast Wisconsin received the news that WEC Energy Group (parent company of We Energies) was committing to retire the older half of their Oak Creek coal-fired generating site by 2024, yet WEC Executive Chair Gale Klappa’s reference to the new “Power the Future” units that were built in 2011 was that they would be run through mid-century – well beyond scientific projections for reversing climate change and saving a livable planet. While the partial retirement plan was certain to bring a drastic reduction in harms to the environment, human health, equity and the climate, it certainly was not enough. The 1400 MW of remaining generating capacity was left to pose a threat for decades to come. WEC has changed its tune this time around, as pressure from shareholders, activists, and elected leaders has centered on the climate emergency at hand, and the need to take drastic steps to reduce carbon emissions, especially targeting coal as a top culprit.
In WEC’s 3rd quarter earnings call on November 2, 2021, Klappa announced that the company would be eliminating the use of coal as an energy source by 2035, at the latest. In the meantime, Klappa said, they plan to gradually reduce the use of coal to where it will constitute 5% of the company’s power supply by the end of 2030.
However, the above commitments came with a destructive caveat: to convert operations in Oak Creek to be fueled by gas, which is of course still a fossil fuel, and also produced using methods like fracking that carry their own set of environmental, climate and health hazards. Klappa stated, “Subject to an environmental permit, we’ve planned to make operating refinements over the next two years that will allow a fuel blend of up to 30% natural gas. We see a very bright and long future for the newer units at Oak Creek.”
Klappa cited reliability and carbon emissions as two primary factors in how the 2035 retirement timeline was determined. He noted that the current five-year capital plan includes 1200 MW of newly announced renewables – 700 MW of solar, and 500 MW of battery storage. Prior announced renewables are in various stages of progress.
The retirement announcement and transition plan brings mixed feelings for members of the Clean Power Coalition and residents of Southeast Wisconsin (CPC). While we applaud and are relieved by a retirement date much earlier than 2050, we encourage WEC to diligently reassess an even earlier retirement date than 2035. That is 14 years of continued suffering by neighbors and community members with breathing and other health conditions, and a critically impactful amount of time to be protecting the planet from climate devastation. Additionally, the CPC stands firmly against the use of all fossil fuels, including fracked gas. WEC must face the scientific facts of the numerous environmental, climate, and human health harms that fracked gas causes and commit to wisely investing in 100% clean, renewable energy now.
“Transitioning away from coal is a huge step in the right direction,” stated CPC member Dana LaFontsee. “It’s been clear for years that burning coal is uneconomic and detrimental to climate and health, and We Energies is finally catching up. While this shift is welcome news, We Energies’ intentions to invest in gas, another fossil fuel, are unwelcome, particularly in light of President Biden’s commitment to limit methane at COP26. Instead, We Energies should be investing more in renewable energy, storage options, and demand side changes that would provide economic benefits, reliable energy, good jobs, and healthy living environments.”
CPC member Tom Rutkowski added, “We Energies, the company that built one of the country’s last coal plants, took a step forward by announcing the retirement of their coal fleet by 2035, but the transition to gas makes the move a half step, not the full stride toward renewables that the climate crisis demands. The resources directed toward retrofitting coal plants to burn gas instead would be better spent in a transition to renewable energy and battery storage.”
“It is good news that We Energies is planning to stop burning coal to generate electricity in 2035,” said Sister Janet Weyker, CPC member and former coal plant neighbor. “However, to replace coal with gas, another fossil fuel, is not the acceptable solution. Investment in 100% renewable energy and the creation of living-wage, clean jobs is what is needed to save the planet and the health of all living beings who depend on clean air and water.”
Eric Hansen, CPC Member, commented, “WEC seems to have reversed its inexplicable and long-standing no-can-do stance, and it now says its power plants will be coal free by 2035. Science, common sense, and the health of our community and planet tells us they should get the job done in 14 months, not 14 years. In addition, it is unacceptable that We Energies is swapping coal for another polluting, planet-killing fossil fuel: gas.”
Continued Hansen, “Today, we see the power of citizen action reflected in WEC’s announcement. We won’t stop until there is a clean power system that grows good jobs and doesn’t threaten our community’s health or our planet’s health. We won’t settle for anything less.”
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March 19, 2021 – As a community organization committed to justice for all people, the Clean Power Coalition of Southeast Wisconsin condemns the concerning and unacceptable trend of anti-Asian violence in the United States, and throughout the world. The misogyny and racism at work in both the fight for eco-justice and social justice are inextricably intertwined.
The murders that were committed this week in Atlanta are just one devastating instance of violence against the Asian community. Stop AAPI Hate has received 3,795 reports of anti-Asian hate in the United States over the last year, but those are just the ones reported. Most attacks target the most vulnerable members of the Asian American community, with women being targeted more than twice as often as men. Our hearts are with all of the Asian, Asian American and Pacific Islander communities, and we commit to the work of acknowledging and addressing racism and hate in all forms. We encourage our community to reflect on the 8 lives taken, and we offer our heartfelt condolences to the families of Soon Chung Park, Daoyou Feng, Hyun Jung Grant, Suncha Kim, Yong Ae Yue, Paul Andre Michels, Delaina Ashley Yaun, and Xiaojie Tan. The senseless acts and words of violence and hate must stop. Please consider lending your support in the following ways.
1. Sign on to this collective community statement developed by Asian Americans Advancing Justice-Atlanta.
2. Donate to support the victims and their families.
5. Learn more about the current surge in violence and growing awareness of anti-Asian violence through NPR’s compilation of reporting.
December 9, 2020 – The long-anticipated report by the members of the Governor’s task force has been published! The report serves as policy recommendations to Governor Evers and standards for climate work and equity throughout the state. According to a press release issued by Lt. Governor Mandela Barnes, chair of the task force, “the report includes 55 climate solutions across nine sectors that will lay the foundation for the state to better adapt to and mitigate the effects of climate change, while also seeking environmental justice and economic opportunities in renewable energy and conservation.”
The report importantly centers the priority of racial and environmental justice in all climate solutions, including a recommendation to create an Office of Environmental Justice. Specific to energy policy, it outlines twelve strategies which include the avoidance of all new fossil fuel investments, modernization of electricity rate design, as well as development of clean energy infrastructure. Unfortunately, the recommendations do not include retiring all Wisconsin coal plants by 2030, nor committing to 100% carbon-pollution free electricity by 2035 which the incoming Biden administration has set as a goal. We have work to do to both hold the administration and legislature accountable for carrying out the strategies, as well as pushing for more action on coal-fueled plants.
We are grateful to the clean energy champion members of the task force who uplifted the voices of the people, as well as climate science and energy generation data, and persisted to raise the bar accordingly – and boldly – higher.
There are some incredible victories and very hopeful prospects for a clean energy transformation and so much environmental policy work in Wisconsin that likely wouldn’t have made it into the report without the strong show of advocacy by residents across the state and from right here in Southeast Wisconsin. The hard work in this collective effort made a difference – staying informed, sending comments online, speaking in listening sessions, increasing involvement with the Clean Power Coalition and other groups in the movement, and more. The report cites the voice of the community in justification for many key recommendations. The Clean Power Coalition of Southeast Wisconsin will keep moving this critical work forward together.
November 6, 2020 – This week, WEC Energy Group (owner of We Energies) announced it plans to retire 1400 MW of coal by 2025, starting with the four remaining units (1192 MW) at the South Oak Creek coal plant in 2023 and 2024; with an additional 300MW to be retired by 2025. WEC is a co-owner of the Columbia coal plant, operated by Alliant Energy; and it co-owns and operates the Weston Power Plant and Elm Road Generating Station. WEC’s announcement included plans to invest in a significant clean energy portfolio that includes 800 MW of solar, 600 MW of battery storage, and 100 MW of wind. WEC’s announcements are part of a “roadmap” that lays out the company’s near-term plans to achieve 70% reduction in carbon emissions by 2030.
Neighbors of the South Oak Creek plant have been speaking out about negative health impacts from the plant and calling for its closure for years. In 2017, those neighbors, the Sierra Club, and other local organizations formed the Clean Power Coalition of Southeast Wisconsin (CPCSW) to call for the retirement of the coal plant and for more clean energy. The Clean Power Coalition hosted a virtual press conference featuring several excellent speakers from member and partner organizations, responding to the news, calling for a just transition for impacted employees and the community, and committing to continued work to see all coal-generated power retired from Southeast Wisconsin and beyond. View the press event:
Sierra Club and the Clean Power Coalition of Southeast Wisconsin released the following statements.
Sierra Club Beyond Coal Campaign Deputy Director Elizabeth Katt Reinders:
“WEC’s commitment to this massive coal-to-clean transition will deliver millions of dollars in savings to customers while improving the health and quality of life for Wisconsinites. Neighbors near the Oak Creek coal plant and other local activists have been speaking out on the dire impacts of this plant for years. An early retirement will mean the people of southeastern Wisconsin will breathe easier, Lake Michigan will be cleaner, and the company will make significant reductions in its contribution to climate change in this critical decade that calls for bold and urgent action.“As WEC steps into its transition from coal to clean energy, we urge them to invest in transition planning and resources for its workforce, and to prioritize new clean energy investment in communities most impacted by the transition and in regions that are too often overlooked for economic development. We have arrived at the clean energy tipping point, and it’s critical we build what’s next in a way that delivers the benefits of this transition equitably.”
Sierra Club Southeast Gateway Group Co-Chair and member of Clean Power Coalition of Southeast Wisconsin Tom Rutkowski:
“The dramatic decline in the price of renewables, particularly solar energy, and the advent of cost-efficient battery storage made We Energies’ transition to clean energy only a matter of time. The Clean Power Coalition is glad that the transition will not be further delayed and that We Energies will close an obsolete plant rather than continuing to invest in it. This announcement is a tremendous step toward cleaner air and water, improved public health, significant climate action and a step that will also save customers money. We hope that the sixteen billion dollar investment in clean energy will be a great economic stimulus for Southeast Wisconsin as we recover from the economic effects of the pandemic and that We Energies will continue to help any workers displaced by this necessary transition.”
Clean Power Coalition of Southeast Wisconsin member, Sister Janet Weyker of the Racine Dominicans:
“Just days after the United States withdrew from the Paris Climate Accord, announcements like this show that we can still meet our climate goals. We Energies’ retirement of the South Oak Creek coal plant will cut air, water, and climate pollution that have harmed our community for years. As the transition to clean, carbon-free energy continues, we must stay committed to closing Wisconsin’s remaining fossil fuel-powered plants, supporting a just transition for workers, and ensuring that the benefits of this plant retirement are passed on to ratepayers.”
Clean Power Coalition of Southeast Wisconsin member, Village of Caledonia resident and neighbor to the South Oak Creek coal plant Renee Michna:
“It’s good news to hear that We Energies is beginning to address what we have known all along, which is that producing power through coal results in severe health issues, such as the deaths of innocent people through lung disease. I applaud their decision to finally replace the South Oak Creek power plant with wind and solar. This transition should have happened a decade ago. Instead, We Energies at that time chose to build a gigantic new coal plant, Elm Road, on the same site, which will perhaps be one of the last coal plants ever built in America. So it is important to remember what type of corporation they still remain. They pollute the drinking water wells of area residents, pump mercury discharge and other toxins into Lake Michigan and allow coal dust from enormous coal piles to waft down on their neighbors. They are only decommissioning this old plant because the natural lifespan of the plant is near and public pressure has held their feet to the fire at every step. If they actually cared about the environment and their neighbors, they would immediately retire Elm Road and replace it with clean energy. We look forward to the day they decide to make that decision, and thus become a responsible corporation and a good neighbor.”
State Senator Chris Larson, Wisconsin’s 7th District:
“Our Oak Creek neighbors can breathe a little easier knowing their skies will be clearer very soon. I want to thank nearby families and the Clean Power Coalition for their advocacy, without which this would not have been possible. This coal plant closure is just one more step toward Wisconsin becoming a 100% clean energy state, and I look forward to working with stakeholders to make this a reality.”
The Clean Power Coalition of Southeast Wisconsin hosted an online press conference on the ninth anniversary of the We Energies’ Oak Creek bluff collapse incident which occurred on Halloween of 2011. Speakers from the community and local public officials called on We Energies to stop their dirty tricks and finally end their haunting legacy in Southeast Wisconsin by retiring their polluting and devastation-prone coal plant. We Energies is faced with having to eliminate its more dangerous methods for handling coal ash by the end of next year, in accordance with its water permit. The company has yet to decide whether it will invest more money in the Oak Creek coal plant, or shut it down in order to comply. Speakers appealed to the company to make the only decision that will offer residents a guaranteed future free of impacts from that plant: a retirement and remediation timeline for the coal-fired Oak Creek Power Plant. Read more.
View the event here:
In our fight for the health and safety of Southeast Wisconsin’s residents, justice and equity are, and must continue to be, centered in our work as the Clean Power Coalition. Environmental and racial justice work are one and the same, and we stand in solidarity with those calling for justice for Jacob Blake.
Mr. Blake was shot multiple times in front of his children — none of them were treated with the dignity and respect each human being deserves. Instead of fighting for survival, he should be at home caring for his family in the midst of an already difficult pandemic.
Black lives matter and must be honored in Southeast Wisconsin. As a coalition, we demand action every day for clean air and water, better public health, and a stable climate. Today, we join those demanding justice for Jacob Blake, his family, and all of those who have suffered from police brutality. We invite you to join us.
You can donate to the Milwaukee Freedom Fund to support Wisconsinites who are protesting police violence. You can donate to Jacob Blake’s Go Fund Me to help cover medical costs as he is now paralyzed from the waist down and will need ongoing medical c
The 11 siblings of the Michna family grew up on Michna Road in Caledonia where nearly all of them still live – despite having We Energies’ coal-fired power plant as a neighbor. Listen to their story in a recent episode of “The Land I Trust” podcast, which features storytellers from across the Midwestern US who share their experiences of climate change, the impacts of dirty fuels, and the fight for clean energy.