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PSC approves We Energies settlement

We Energies will dedicate $96 million a year for Lake Michigan research and projects and $2.5 million to greenhouse gas studies under an agreement approved by the Public Service Commission of Wisconsin on Thursday.

The payments are part of a settlement agreement the utility signed in August 2008 with Clean Wisconsin and the Sierra Club. The settlement ends a lawsuit the two environmental groups filed against a Lake Michigan water-intake pipe We Energies built for new generating units the utility is building at the Oak Creek power plant.

The $105 million settlement called for We Energies to use ratepayer money to pay for research, and the PSC must approve all rate increases. The rate change approved Thursday for the environmental projects amounts to an increase of less than 1 percent.

Starting in 2011 and ending in 2035, We Energies will dedicate $4 million of ratepayer money annually to research and projects that will reduce invasive species, polluted runoff, sewage overflows, and other issues that pollute Lake Michigan or harm its ecosystem.

The utility also agreed to pay $5 million to study greenhouse gases and climate change. The utility already paid $2.5 million. Utility shareholders will pay $500,000, and the utility needed the PSC to approve a rate increase to raise $2 million to pay for the rest.

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