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News from around Wisconsin (9:08 p.m. 11/2/09)

Wisconsin PSC approves utility’s biomass plan

WAUSAU, Wis. (AP) — A northern Wisconsin utility’s latest plan to replace coal with logging waste and dead trees as its primary fuel to generate electricity has been approved by the state Public Service Commission.

Northern States Power Company-Wisconsin, a subsidiary of Minneapolis-based Xcel Energy, said Monday that installing the biomass gasification technology in its third generator at Bay Front Power Plant in Ashland will make it the largest biomass plant in the Midwest — based on producing 60 megawatts of power from that fuel.

The utility now powers two generators with steam made from burning wood products at the plant. It said the cost of converting the third by 2012 is estimated at $58.1 million and the change will eliminate the burning of more than 100,000 tons of coal each year.

“The Bay Front project demonstrates our continuing commitment to the environment and a clean energy future. We’re helping our customers and communities practice sustainability while increasing local economic development,” Mike Swenson, president and CEO of Northern States Power, said in a statement.

Coal-fired power plant emissions contain carbon dioxide, the leading greenhouse gas linked to global warming.

Wood materials left in forests from logging, such as treetops, damaged trees and underutilized species, will be the primary fuel to produce steam for the third generator, the company said. The wood — described by the company as “lower quality biomass” — will come from several counties in northern Wisconsin, Minnesota and Michigan.

The Bay Front Power Plant began operating in 1916 as a coal plant, growing to five boilers and six turbines by 1960. Two of the boilers and three of the turbines eventually were retired.

Packers’ Rodgers hobbled, expected to play Sunday

GREEN BAY, Wis. (AP) — The hits just keep on coming for Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who has experienced a season’s worth of sacks in seven games. All that punishment is beginning to take its toll.

Rodgers limped away from Sunday’s loss to the Minnesota Vikings with a sprained toe on one foot and a nagging sprain on the other. Packers coach Mike McCarthy said Rodgers could miss time in practice this week but is expected to play Sunday at Tampa Bay without losing mobility.

Rodgers has been sacked a league-worst 31 times this season, including six by Minnesota on Sunday.

“Our sack numbers are clearly out of balance,” McCarthy said. “That’s something we’ll continue to work through.”

But Rodgers’ inability to stay upright is only one of the glaring problems facing the Packers (4-3), who were put in their place — a distant second place in the NFC North — by their former quarterback, Brett Favre.

“Their quarterback has made a big impact,” McCarthy said of Favre. “That’s something, that quarterback productivity, they haven’t had in the last three years that we have played them.”

Meanwhile, the Packers keep showing they’re not quite ready for prime time.

Wisconsin teachers couldn’t be fired over test scores

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Wisconsin schools could use student test scores to evaluate teachers, but they still couldn’t use the information to discipline or fire them under a bill moving quickly through the Legislature.

Lawmakers must remove a ban on using test scores in evaluations for Wisconsin to compete for about $4.5 billion in Race to the Top stimulus money for education. Race to the Top is intended to improve student achievement, boost the performance of minority students and raise graduation rates.

Republicans and the Wisconsin Association of School Boards say Doyle and Democrats who control the Legislature are still giving teachers too much deference even as they work to qualify the state for the program.

Wisconsin and Nevada are the only states that don’t allow test results to be used to evaluate teachers. A similar prohibition in New York expires next year, and California removed its ban earlier this year to compete for the federal stimulus money.

Doyle and Democratic lawmakers are moving quickly to get Wisconsin’s ban removed with a vote this week. There is urgency because applications for the Race to the Top money will likely be due in a couple of months and the Legislature ends its session for the year on Thursday.

Doyle supports a proposal that would lift Wisconsin’s restriction on tying test scores with teacher evaluations. However, it would keep in place a ban on using the scores to fire, suspend or discipline a teacher.

It also would require the creation of a teacher development plan to be part of the collective bargaining process between school districts and teachers.

Drunken driver reports herself

NEILSVILLE, Wis. (AP) — The call came into the 911 dispatcher: “I don’t want to hurt anybody. I’m drunk.”

And with that, Mary Strey, 49, of Granton, reported herself as a drunken driver about three miles northeast of Neilsville in central Wisconsin.

Clark County Sheriff’s Chief Deputy Jim Backus said Monday that Strey’s call on Oct. 24 led deputies to cite her for misdemeanor drunken driving with a blood-alcohol level double the legal limit to drive. She makes her first court appearance Dec. 10.

Backus says drunken drivers reporting themselves is rare.

In the 911 call, Strey said she wanted to report a drunken driver and the dispatcher asked if she was behind the suspect vehicle. “I am them,” Strey said. She then followed the dispatcher’s advice to pull over and turn on her flashers, telling him she had been “drinking all night long.”

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