Miranda Ehrlich, 612-998-2758 [email protected]
Dozens Gathered for “Hands Across the Sand” to Call for Clean Energy Transition
Oak Creek, WI – On Saturday, despite the unseasonably cold and cloudy weather, dozens of community members gathered at Bender Park in Oak Creek to protest coal and other fossil fuels at a local “Hands Across the Sand” event. Attendees called on We Energies to withdraw their proposal to impose a massive fee on rooftop solar and make the switch from coal to clean, renewable energy sources. Many expressed indignation at We Energies’ treatment of the environment and active attempt to slow down and monopolize solar development.
In a speech to the crowd, Pastor Jonathan Barker of Grace Lutheran in Kenosha stated, “I am horrified by the way We Energies treats our lake, that they are willing to dump mercury and poison the fish that bring both life and sustenance to us. I’m also outraged that they are putting forth this idea to raise an exorbitant fee on rooftop solar. I’ve got a 4.4 kilowatt system on my garage. When I crunch the numbers that they are proposing, it’s jaw-dropping. It is horrendous to me that they would want to attempt to kill the rooftop solar market at this time when we need all hands on deck for this transition to renewable energy.”
Rep. Greta Neubauer of the 66th Assembly District representing Racine encouraged those who had gathered to continue pushing for transformative change. “Many of you have been in this fight for a long time. Some of us are newer to it. But you all understand that this is a long and hard fight. The systems that we are taking on have a lot of power and it is not going to be easy to turn things around,” stated Neubauer. “But, at the same time, we are seeing an incredible moment right now in the climate movement in the United States. We are seeing increasing pressure on companies like We Energies and others across the state. The work you are doing does matter.”
“Hands Across the Sand” is an annual international day of action that was created in response to the BP oil spill. People come together on beaches and riverfronts across the globe to say NO to dirty fuels and YES to clean energy. More information can be found at https://handsacrossthesand.org/
We Energies has had several major controversies related to their coal plants and clean energy policies recently. Families who live near We Energies’ coal-fired Oak Creek power plant have been complaining to the company for years about negative health effects they are suffering as a result of exposure to coal dust emitted from the plant and the trains that deliver the coal. Coal contains toxic metals including lead, mercury, and arsenic. The health effects of inhalable particulate matter such as coal dust include aggravation of asthma, respiratory symptoms, an increase in hospital emissions, and increased mortality from cardiovascular and respiratory diseases and lung cancer.
In December, We Energies requested a mercury variance that would allow them to discharge up to three times the state standard amount of mercury in their water discharge into Lake Michigan. Mercury is a potent neurotoxin that bioaccumulates in fish and can produce neurological damage and other harmful health effects in humans when consumed. In February, the Wisconsin DNR held a hearing to gather public comments on this issue. Over 150 people attended the hearing and expressed opposition against several provisions of the draft permit, including the mercury variance.
At the beginning of May, WEC Energy Group, the parent company of We Energies, filed a proposal at the Public Service Commission that would impose a significant fee on solar panel owners. This fee has sparked outrage among clean energy advocates, as it would have a chilling effect on solar projects in the state and is widely seen as a move to monopolize and reduce clean energy development. We Energies proposed a similar fee back in 2014, which was ultimately struck down by the courts.