Construction of Oak Creek, Wis., Coal Plant Could Begin Soon

Work on Wisconsin Energy Corp.'s $2.15 billion Oak Creek project, approved late last year by state energy regulators


The coal plants are part of a broader expansion plan announced by Wisconsin Energy in 2000 that includes new natural-gas-fired plants in Port Washington and increased acquisition of energy from wind turbines over the next 10 years.

The first natural gas-fired unit -- being built at the home of a coal plant that will be shut down -- is expected to open next year.

Opponents are hoping for a protracted legal battle. They are heartened that the Army Corps of Engineers has scheduled a public hearing for later this month in Oak Creek on the project, and that the state Department of Natural Resources has yet to issue one of the key water permits for the project.

"I don't see how they can have all their approvals by the end of the year," said Pamela McGillivray, lawyer for Clean Wisconsin, one of the project's opponents.

In a presentation last week to investment analysts who follow the utility industry, company Chief Financial Officer Allen Leverett said opponents would stir some attention in the coming months, but the company will prevail.

"You'll be hearing a lot more about these challenges," he said. "I feel like we're as well-positioned as we can be at this stage. Nothing has come up in the proceedings that we didn't anticipate going in."

Opponents appear nearly as optimistic.

"We Energies needs approvals and favorable court decisions on everything that is either being challenged or decided," said Eric Uram, Midwest regional representative with the Sierra Club in Madison. "For the opponents of those power plants, we only need to win on one."