The Milwaukee Electric Railway and Light Company. Predecessor or both Wisconsin Energies and the Milwaukee County Transit Authority, it was the brainstorm of early Milwaukeeans and the solution for getting thousands upon thousands of our grand parents and great grandparents to work each morning.
My dad worked for Wisconsin Energies back in the day when it was still called Wisconsin Electric Power. In those days there was a streetcar line that terminated at the Lakeside Power Plant on the Lake Michigan shore. Each month workers in the power plant took turns manning the controls of one circuit of the streetcar and did duty as an early form of car-pooling. The streetcar, which ran down Wells street for part of it’s route, picked up employees three times a day, and dropped them off again three times a day as an employee benefit.
On at least one occasion I left home early on a Sunday morning with dad to join him on the route as driver — though with the tracks the only thing the driver did was start and stop the streetcar, and tap the mechanical warning bell that was linked to a button in the floor at the driver’s feet. I felt like a prince doing that. Sitting on dad’s knee, in the driver’s seat, eager to tap the bell, watching other workers run to the streetcar stop, waiting for them to board, and then meeting my mom at the prearranged stop for me to get off when my tour of duty was over and dad had to get to the “other” part of his job inside the power plant. Fond memories brought back to mind when a friend posted these pictures from the TMRELC recently.
Headquartered in downtown Milwaukee’s Public Service Building, We Energies is Wisconsin’s largest electric and natural gas utility. The publicly-traded company serves eastern Wisconsin and Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. A subsidiary of parent company WEC Energy Group, We Energies’ 21st-century portfolio includes coal, natural gas, nuclear, oil, and renewable energies.
The firm dates back to The Milwaukee Electric Railway and Light Company (TMER&L), which focused, as the name suggests, on transportation and illumination infrastructure. Organized under Henry Villard’s North American Company, TMER&L was America’s first integrated power utility, generating energy for lighting, power, and traction. A series of corporate mergers between 1938 and 1941 joined TMER&L with the Wisconsin Electric Power Company and North American Company’s Wisconsin Gas & Electric and Michigan Power Company holdings. However, anti-monopoly legislation soon forced North American Company to dissolve in 1946, rendering Wisconsin Electric independent. Its facilities included the Lakeside Power Plant, the nation’s first to run on pulverized coal, and another plant in Port Washington.
Wisconsin Electric’s capacity grew after World War II. Between 1953 and 1968, the company built eight generators at its Oak Creek Power Plant. Soon after, it began construction on Point Beach Nuclear Plant, ultimately gaining a global reputation for efficiency despite environmentalist concerns about radiological pollution. To reduce capital costs, in 1964 it joined the new Mid-America Interpool Network, a massive power pool that synchronized efforts to share energy region-wide. In 1975, the company announced a strategic plan to shift energy consumption away from peak demand periods, raising subscriber rates seasonally. This decision encouraged legal action from consumer-rights groups. The region’s growing energy demands encouraged Wisconsin Electric to install two new coal-fired units at its Pleasant Prairie Plant during the 1980s. With the addition of real-estate development, investment, and technological equipment holdings, Wisconsin Electric restructured in 1987 as Wisconsin Energy Corporation. In 2015, the company changed structure again, becoming the WEC Energy Group.
In 1996, Wisconsin Energy Corporation’s Wisconsin Electric and Wisconsin Natural Gas holdings combined, eventually rebranding themselves as We Energies in 2002. As We Energies, the company began to develop renewable energy sources and reduce emissions, building wind turbines at its Blue Sky Green Field Wind Energy Center and Glacier Hills Wind Park and refitting coal plants to comply with Environmental Protection Agency standards. Its OAK CREEK expansion site and its Port Washington Generating Station continue to burn fossil fuels.