For the next two years We Energies cannot run half of its natural gas-fueled power plant in Kenosha County, WI, because of a dispute over air pollutants emitted by the Paris Generating Station.

The state Department of Natural Resources (DNR) halted the operation of the plant, located in Union Grove, in 2012 because of emissions that exceeded state standards of nitrogen oxide pollution.

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The power plant, which runs only when electricity demand spikes, may reopen later this year after the state Legislature passed a bill paving the way for an exemption for the project.

In a settlement approved this week, We Energies will pay $50,000 in penalties and forfeitures to settle allegations the utility’s natural gas-fired power plant in Union Grove violated air pollution regulations.

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With the settlement, announced by the state attorney general’s office, the utility settled claims it made a major modification to its Paris Generating Station that required it to address the potential effect on air pollution from those changes.

In 2002, the utility replaced blades on two turbines at the power plant, which the state Department of Natural Resources and attorney general’s office determined was a major modification to the plant, triggering more restrictive air emission standards.

We Energies disputed the changes constituted a major modification.

“The work was performed as routine maintenance that we did not believe required a construction permit at the time,” the utility said in a filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.

The new blades increased the efficiency of the power plant by 7 percent, but We Energies said it did not operate the power plant at the higher power output created by the more efficient turbines.

Tests of the smokestack in June 2012 found nitrogen oxide emissions exceeded state limits.

We Energies spokesman Brian Manthey said the power plant is emitting less pollution because of the new blades than it did before the new blades went in.

“In reality, the plant was emitting less. But the decision by DNR was that, while it was emitting less, it was not compliant with the new rules,” he said.

The power plant is among the least-used plants in the We Energies fleet, running only during periods of extreme hot or cold weather, when electricity demand is highest.

The 400-megawatt Paris Generating Station opened in 1995.

We Energies has been running two of the four units at the plant since the DNR’s finding the utility was in violation of air pollution rules.

However, a law the Legislature passed in December sets up a process for the DNR and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to revise the regulations barring the two units from running.

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