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We Energies Oak Creek natural gas plant would be up and running by 2028

Oak Creek facility will be able to generate 1,100 megawatts of power

Oak Creek Power Plant and Elm Road Generating Station
The plants, in Oak Creek, Wis., near Milwaukee, are coal-fired electrical power stations. Coburn Dukehart/Wisconsin Watch

A new We Energies natural gas plant in Oak Creek is expected to be up and running by summer 2028, according to a new filing with the Wisconsin Public Service Commission.

We Energies announced plans in February to spend $1.2 billion dollars at its Oak Creek Power Plant to convert the facility from a coal-fired power plant to a natural gas plant. A Friday filing with the PSC revealed more details about the project and its projected timeline.

The utility plans to spend roughly $200 million to build a liquefied natural gas storage facility in Oak Creek, $280 million to install gas-fired reciprocating internal combustion engines near the Paris Generating Station in Kenosha County and around $183 million for a 33-mile pipeline to connect those two facilities. Each of those projects still need to be approved by the PSC.

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The Oak Creek natural gas operation will be able to generate 1,100 megawatts of power, consisting of five 220 megawatt turbines. It’ll be located directly west of the existing Oak Creek Power Plant. Meanwhile, the Paris gas units will generate 130 megawatts.

A general schedule from the utility says they’re expecting the first combustion turbine to be delivered to the site in May 2026, and operations to start anytime from winter 2027 to summer 2028.

The utility plans to retire its final coal units at the Oak Creek plant at the end of 2025.

We Energies’ power plant in Oak Creek. Photo: JanetAndPhil (CC-BY-NC-ND).

The proposal said Wisconsin Electric Power Company will have a “considerable need for additional capacity and energy resources” in the coming years. This, as Microsoft’s proposed investment in data centers in Mount Pleasant and other industrial developments in southeastern Wisconsin are driving a projected increase in demand for power. 

The natural gas plant in Oak Creek will primarily serve as backup power sources for times when the utility can’t count on renewable energy resources. It’s a move to “seek a combination of resources that can ensure the energy needs of the customers are met at all times,” according to the filing.

A combustion turbine is also capable “of supplying peaking power over hours, days or even weeks,” the filing said.

Tom Content, the executive director of the Citizens Utility Board of Wisconsin, said the switch to natural gas marks a shift from energy companies. He said it’s a sign the energy system is “being rethought on the fly.” 

“It’s a dramatic change from what we’ve been seeing in recent years, which is a move to build a lot of solar and battery projects,” Content said.

“It’s one of the biggest applications that we’ve seen,” he added about the project.

But the plans are drawing criticism from environmental groups.

Natural gas produces half the carbon emissions of coal plants, but natural gas production releases methane, which has more than 80 times the warming power of carbon dioxide over the span of two decades.

“Gas plants are an additional fossil fuel, so adding more fossil fuel infrastructure does not get us to a clean energy future that we so desperately need,” said Cassie Steiner, a senior campaign coordinator for the Wisconsin Chapter of the Sierra Club.

Editor’s note: The Citizens Utility Board of Wisconsin is an underwriter of WPR.