The Menomonee Valley plant is a cogeneration facility located along the Menomonee River in Milwaukee that generates electricity for the grid and produces steam for heating hundreds of downtown Milwaukee buildings.
"For decades, the Valley plant has served a critical role - producing electricity, providing voltage support for the downtown Milwaukee business center, and delivering a reliable steam supply for some 450 customers, ranging from Northwestern Mutual to the Marquette University campus," said Gale Klappa, chairman, president and chief executive officer of We Energies. "Our analysis shows that converting the fuel source for the plant will reduce our operating costs and enhance the environmental performance of the Valley units.”
The company plans to file an application with the Public Service Commission of Wisconsin (PSCW) for approval to modify the plant so that it will be capable of burning natural gas.
The company will tap into pipelines of natural gas west of the valley, primarily in West Allis and West Milwaukee. The gas will be produced from afar and transported by pipeline to the Valley Plant, We Energies spokesman Brian Manthey said.
“There will be no fracking in the valley,” Manthey told BizTimes.
The electric capacity of the plant is expected to remain at 280 megawatts. If approval is received from the PSCW, We Energies expects the conversion to be completed in 2015 or 2016.
The cost of the conversion project is expected to total between $60 million and $65 million. Approximately 50 positions at the plant are likely to be eliminated in connection with the conversion to natural gas. However, the impact on current employees will be minimized through reassignment to other We Energies sites and through retirement and normal attrition.
Over the past decade, emissions from the Valley plant have decreased significantly, including a 65 percent reduction in sulfur dioxide emissions. In October 2010, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency commented on the air quality improvements noting that the monitor closest to the Valley plant - the 16th Street Health Center monitor - has the lowest monitored ozone levels in southeastern Wisconsin.
Klappa said that the conversion plan will secure Valley Plant's role in meeting the energy needs of a vibrant downtown Milwaukee.
We Energies is operated by Wisconsin Energy Corp.