Utility uses grassroots to win support for expansion

MILWAUKEE: Wisconsin's largest utility, Wisconsin Energy, is stepping up its campaign to gain state regulatory approval for building new power plants.

MILWAUKEE: Wisconsin's largest utility, Wisconsin Energy, is stepping up its campaign to gain state regulatory approval for building new power plants.

MILWAUKEE: Wisconsin's largest utility, Wisconsin Energy, is stepping up its campaign to gain state regulatory approval for building new power plants.

Milwaukee PR firm Mueller Communications, the utility's long-time agency, is creating a grassroots lobbying network for the plan, trying to gain the support of unions, business groups and community organizations.

California's power problems thrust the Wisconsin plan, announced last September, on to front pages across the state. 'The California situation has made it much easier to place stories,' said Mike John, manager of media relations.

Opponents are calling the grassroots support 'fake' and saying what the utility really wants is deregulation. But Wisconsin Energy has said it will accept 20 years of state-capped rates if it can build the new generating plants. It needs both regulatory approval and legislative action to carry out its plans.

'It's a relatively complicated proposal and that is the challenge we have communicating it,' said John.

In addition to Mueller's grassroots efforts, the utility has created a speakers bureau, met with editors and used its Web site to explain its plans. 'It's a full-court press,' John said. Everyone in his 30-person department has worked on the issue at one time or another.

Steve Hiniker, executive director of the Wisconsin Citizens Utility Board, thinks the grassroots effort will backfire on Wisconsin Energy. 'They just don't generate much bang for the buck,' he said, adding that state officials know such groups don't represent average citizens.

Carl Mueller, president of Mueller Communications, disagreed with Hiniker.

'What we're doing is reaching out to constituencies that are inclined to be supportive,' he said. 'You can't call them fake.'



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