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We Energies: Coal pile that caused dust issue out of commission for "foreseeable future"

Posted at 10:02 PM, Jun 13, 2018
and last updated 2018-06-13 23:33:11-04

It's been roughly three months since neighbors in an Oak Creek subdivision found coal dust covering their homes and cars.

We Energies said the coal came from one of three outdoor piles at its nearby plant. 

Strong winds, in excess of 40 mph, were to blame.

After the coal dust impacted neighbors, We Energies pledged to make changes. 

This month, TODAY'S TMJ4 toured the power plant and the three coal piles it contains to see how those changes are coming. 

The largest coal pile, which We Energies said is the one that caused the issue, has been taken out of commission. 

Pat Stiff, VP of Coal Generation and Biomass for the WEC Energy Group, said the pile will not be used for the foreseeable future. 

"We've apologized to those folks and we've made commitments to make changes here so that impact doesn't reach them again," Stiff said. 

The pile has been coated by a thick, green crust. It's supposed to withstand the elements, like rain and wind, and not allow any dust to blow off of the coal. 

John Smith, who lives in the neighborhood that was impacted by the coal dust back in March, said it concerned him. 

"You don't want to be breathing that in if you don't have to," Smith said. 

At a previous town hall at the Oak Creek Library, a local allergist said coal dust hasn't been definitely linked to cause any health conditions. However, he said it can worsen pre-existing health issues like asthma or respiratory infections.

We Energies said, since March, the guidelines for when operations at the Oak Creek site cease due to wind have been made stricter. 

They're now more stringent than the facility's air permit requires. 

"In March, at about 20 mph wind speed we would curtail operations on the coal piles," Stiff said. 

"Now, the cutoff is in the 13 to 15 mph range, depending on the wind direction," he added. 

The company also keeps the coal piles wet. Each one is doused with water every two hours to minimize dust. 

We Energies has also pledged to extend a berm between the coal pile that caused the dust issue and the neighbors to the North. 

Stiff said an air monitor will also be installed in that area to the North, to complement an existing one that already stands to the South of the plant. 

"It's on order, we hope to have it sighted and installed by the end of the summer," Stiff said of the air monitor. 

Smith is hopeful the company can keep the coal dust out of his neighborhood. 

"I think they can correct the problem," he said. 

But other neighbors aren't confident. 

"I'm sure we'll get more dust again before the end of the summer," said neighbor Greg Millard. 

Millard said he and other neighbors are frustrated, and won't believe the changes are effective until they see them working. 

"We just don't want to be breathing this stuff anymore," Millard said.