A power plant in search of a home

RACINE COUNTY, WISCONSIN - Officials from a nationwide, private power company have met with two local leaders in the past month to discuss building a $500 million electrical company in Racine County.

Racine Mayor Jim Smith and Mount Pleasant town administrator Pat DeGrave said their communities' have had preliminary talks with U.S. Generating Company.

"We have an interest," Smith said. "We're looking at possible sites. Obviously, you can't build it next to a residential area.

We'd have to have a good land use plan."

U.S. Generating spokesman Sam O'Neill said the plant would generate 600 construction jobs while the plant was under construction and 35 full-time jobs when completed. He said U.S. Generating hopes to have the plant running by 2002.

Racine and Mount Pleasant jumped into the power sweepstakes last week when Somers residents rejected the plant on an advisory vote. Residents were concerned about pollution and significant changes to the area.

The town voted 55 percent to 45 percent against the plant, despite the plant's lucrative potential. One report estimated the company would add $300,000 to the town's annual budget.

The election result does not kill the plant's chances in Somers. The vote was a non-binding referendum and does not compel the town board to heed the electorate.

O'Neill said his company is still pursuing the Somers' site, but it is also considering eight other locations in Kenosha and Racine counties. He would not release the specific sites.

Wherever the plant is built, it needs 40 acres of land and access to a large natural gas line, hanging power lines and municipal water.

Mount Pleasant has space for the large building on its west side, DeGrave said, but does not have access to the infrastructure demands.

He said power, gas and water lines would be expensive and possibly prohibitive.

"We don't have any of those sites available," DeGrave said, "...but it's very preliminary, we'll listen to what they say."

Smith said if the company came to Racine, it would pay for its needs. He rejected city assistance, such as a tax incremental finance district, to lure the power company.

"I would think that (the improvements) would be their responsibility," Smith said.

The proposed plant would be a private, and relatively small, power operation that would sell electricity to utilities throughout the country. One potential client is the Wisconsin Electric Power Company, the major power provider to Racine. Power generated at the site could be pumped throughout the United States.

A Wisconsin Electric spokesperson said the proposed power company would be similar to any new business.

"It's just a different commodity," John Bartel said. "They'll sell their product where it is needed."

He added Wisconsin Electric had preliminary discussions with U.S. Generator to buy power, but did not reach any agreements.

U.S. Generating was founded in 1989 and controls 30 power plants throughout the country, including 18 in the New England area. Last year, the power company reported more than $1 billion in revenues and $6 billion in invested capital.


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