Wisconsin Electric: Doing its part to mitigate mercury

MILWAUKEE--(BUSINESS WIRE)--May 1, 2001--With the opening of the Wisconsin fishing season beginning this weekend, there may be a lot of attention directed to the impacts of mercury on aquatic life and on the fish-consuming public. Wisconsin Electric, the state's largest utility, acknowledges the potential health risk posed by mercury and has become a nationwide leader in its efforts to understand and mitigate mercury emissions from its operations.

"Wisconsin Electric has been actively supporting the assessment of mercury control technologies with the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) and various research and industry groups for many years," said Ramsay Chang, manager of air pollution control for EPRI. "Significant progress has been made in the understanding of mercury emission control technologies, and in developing models and test equipment to evaluate these technologies. Wisconsin Electric has helped EPRI and the utility industry determine the feasibility for mercury control at different power plant sites, the cost impacts, and the issues that need to be further addressed."

Mercury is a silver-colored heavy-metal that is liquid at room temperature. Small amounts of mercury are naturally present in soil and water, but the vast majority of mercury in the atmosphere is in vapor form. High levels of certain mercury compounds can pose serious health risks. Certain forms of mercury that are released to the air settle in water and can be converted to other, more toxic forms that accumulate in fish and other wildlife.

"We support all efforts to increase public awareness of mercury and its potential dangers," said Kris McKinney, manager of environmental strategy for Wisconsin Electric. "We also want the public to know what measures our company has taken over the years to understand and mitigate mercury emissions from our operations."

For more than a decade, Wisconsin Electric has been a leader in funding research to help understand how much mercury is emitted from its operations, clarifying what happens to mercury that is deposited in aquatic systems and developing mercury control technologies. From 1999 through 2001, Wisconsin Electric will spend more than $1.4 million on mercury research, development and demonstration projects. For example, WE has committed more than $170,000 for a voluntary, cooperative research program with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources and EPRI to determine the effects of mercury on loon reproduction. In addition, WE's Pleasant Prairie Power Plant was selected by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the U.S. Department of Energy to perform detailed testing of various sorbent materials to reduce the mercury emitted by coal-based power plants.

Wisconsin Electric supports continued research and reasonable solutions to reducing the amount of mercury in the air emitted by its power plants.

"However, it's not just a state problem, it's a national and even international problem," said McKinney. "If Wisconsin were to impose stringent requirements that only pertained to Wisconsin utility companies, that would put us at a distinct competitive disadvantage relative to our neighboring states where control measures have not been enacted. We continue to be receptive to developing an effective and practical mercury control program, particularly as part of an integrated air quality approach."

Stringent mercury reduction proposals could in effect stall or even prevent Wisconsin Energy's (the parent of Wisconsin Electric) Power the Future proposal, which would significantly reduce air emissions and increase the amount of energy generated from renewable resources along with additional energy efficiency efforts. The Power the Future plan adds new generation through a prudent mix of both natural gas and coal, using state-of-the-art combustion and emission control technologies.

"Our obligation as a utility is to balance environmental needs with the state's growing need for cost-effective and reliable energy," said McKinney. "We will continue to advocate and participate in responsible mercury reduction efforts."

Wisconsin Energy Corporation is a Milwaukee-based holding company with subsidiaries in utility and non-utility businesses. The company serves more than 1 million electric customers in Wisconsin and Michigan's Upper Peninsula and 957,000 natural gas customers in Wisconsin through its utility subsidiaries - Wisconsin Electric, Wisconsin Gas and Edison Sault Electric. Its non-utility subsidiaries include energy services and development, pump manufacturing, waste-to-energy and real estate businesses. Visit the company's Web site at www.WisconsinEnergy.com.

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