Still fed up with the lack of attention to their concerns, more neighbors around the We Energies Oak Creek Power Plant lodged complaints against the utility.
At a public listening session held Wednesday at the Oak Creek Public Library, neighbors voiced concerns about train noise, dust, health issues and the impact on their property values.
The utility’s position on the presence of coal dust inside and outside neighbors’ homes has been a bone of contention for more than 10 years. The utility has power washed homes and cars, done coal testing inside and outside homes, and gone as far as buying homes around the plant to create a buffer zone around the plant. But not curbed production of coal around the plant.
“Hello We Energies… we meet again,” said Charlie Michna, who owns a farm just south of the coal plant. “How many times are we going to get together like this?”
Michna has complained about the plant for decades
We Energies officials apologize, promise to do better
But this time things were a little different.
The remaining neighbors living around the power plant received an apology from Tom Metcalf, executive vice president of WEC Group. That is the holding company for We Energies. He also promised to address some of their concerns.
“I am very sorry for the incidents that have caused us to be here this evening,” Metcalfe said. “We can and we must do a better job.”
Still, officials with We Energies have refuted claims that the coal dust poses any health risks. But according to the National Institute of Health:
“People who live near coal-fired power plants have the greatest health risks from power plant pollution. Many pollutants such as metals and dioxins may attach to fine particles and travel hundreds or even thousands of miles.”
A We Energies union official spoke at the meeting.
“I’m not aware of anybody in our local that has a chronic respiratory issue that is working at the power plant,” he said. “The coal is dirty. Absolutely. It’s hard to get out of your laundry? Absolutely. As far as it being a respiratory issue. I’m not aware of that.”
Still, a number of neighbors have voiced their concerns and a number of them have joined the Clean Power Coalition. And many neighbors still want to move.
Wendy Prochaska, 5613 7 Mile Rod, explained that she has put her house up for sale because she has breast cancer and has seen a number of her neighbors also get sick with breast cancer, diabetes, and heart issues. A number of them have already sold their homes to We Energies and left.
“No one is coming to look at my house… I want to leave,” Prochaska said. “Please help us leave. Please help us to move.”
Neighbors in Oak Creek raise concerns
“I went out to my car and ran the windshield wiper and there it was. Then I realized, the coal dust is everywhere,” she said. “The more I looked, the more I saw it….a pile that size should not be that close to residents.”
Residents also raised concerns in 2015 when the utility sought a permit to double the size of the coal pile on the property, which included storing 420,000 tons of coal on the Oak Creek Power Plant site and 330,000 tons of coal on the Elm Road Generation Station site. Those two sites are adjacent to one another.
The permit required We Energies to use a crusting agent on the south coal pile only, but not the north coal pile located more towards the center of the property. The use of the crusting agent on the south pile was only required to be used once the north pile was constructed and active. That’s because the pile on the south side of the property is used for “long-term storage and the north pile for more short-term storage of coal,” according to a memorandum from the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.
We Energies commits to reducing dust
Metcalfe explained to the crowd how the utility planned to address the coal dust issue.
“We take our environmental responsibilities very seriously,” Metcalfe said. “We want to be good neighbors. We take our responsibility to you all very seriously.”
The utility plans to flatten the new coal pile, encrust it with a sealing agent, and create a four-inch barrier on the top of the coal pile that is impermeable to ran or wind.
“We are basically going to put it out of service until we get our long-term solution in place,” he said. “That’s going to take a few weeks to get done… I want you to be patient with us if you can be.”
The utility is also looking at the possibility of building a wind barrier, either partially around or entirely around the three coal piles.
“I’m not talking about a small fence here,” he said. “These are significant structures that have been proven to work at other coal locations around the country.”
Calls made for power plant to convert to renewable energy
Sister Janet Weyker called on We Energies to look at switching the plant to renewable energy.
“Replace it with 100 percent renewable energy… develop a plan, we can do it. You can it,” she said