WisBusiness: We Energies could start plant construction in July

By Brian E. Clark

We Energies could begin construction on its $2.15 billion Oak Creek coal project next month, following this morning’s ruling by the Wisconsin state Supreme Court.

The high court overturned a November decision by Judge David Flanagan, who ruled that the state Public Service Commission did not properly apply Wisconsin law when it approved the two-plant Oak Creek project in 2003.

Opponents of the coal plants said additional appeals are still before lower courts, but they acknowledged that their hopes for delaying the start of construction had been stopped.

Thad Nation, a spokesman for We Energies, said his company must now renegotiate its contract with Bechtel. He said We Energies has already paid millions of dollars in penalties because of delays caused by Flanagan’s decision.

Even though We Energies contract with Bechtel runs through July 1, he said his company had missed the 45-day call-up deadline – mandating the new negotiations.

“In the next few weeks, we will finalize a new contract and then issue the 45-day order to mobilize,” he said.

In the meantime, he said We Energies could begin site preparation and do other preliminary work.

“We will move as quickly as possible,” he said. “It could be a few weeks, but I can’t say exactly.”

The legal challenge to the Oak Creek project prompted lawmakers to introduce a bill to address problems identified by Flanagan in his ruling. AB 441 was passed with a 74-22 vote by the Assembly on June 14,and a 24-8 vote in the Senate on June 23.

The bill is awaiting action by Gov. Jim Doyle, who has voiced frustration with Flanagan’s ruling.

Nation said utility leaders were pleased with the high court decision affirming that the PSC and the speed with which it acted. The court considered the case on an expedited schedule because of its importance to the state and because of the expense of delays.

Bruce Nilles, a spokesman for the Sierra Club, said the today’s Supreme Court decision was a disappointment.

“It gave deference to the PSC, but it still does not answer the question of whether this project meets environmental health requirements and protects he public’s health.”

“It is ironic that this decision should come after several days of dirty air alerts,” he said.