MILWAUKEE — We Energies announced today that it plans to take the initial steps toward converting the Valley Power Plant to natural gas from coal.

“We’re encouraged to hear that We Energies acknowledges the need to convert the Valley Power Plant from coal to cleaner-burning natural gas,” said Katie Nekola, attorney at Clean Wisconsin. “Despite being located in the heart of downtown Milwaukee, the Valley Power Plant currently lacks modern pollution controls and fails to meet pollution and health standards set in the Clean Air Act.”

The Valley Power Plant is a significant source of soot and smog, which are linked to serious health problems like asthma attacks, heart attacks and strokes. More than 24,000 people live within a mile of the plant and suffer the worst consequences of its pollution.

In March, Clean Wisconsin and Sierra Club filed petitions with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, contending that the Valley Power Plant’s air permit, issued by the DNR, violates the Clean Air Act.

“We have been fighting long and hard to clean up the Valley Power Plant in order to reduce pollution and protect the thousands of residents who live in the shadows of the plant’s smokestacks,” said Emily Miota, field organizer for Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign. “Today’s announcement is welcome news that Milwaukee can look forward to a cleaner, healthier future.”

We Energies Chairman and CEO Gale Klappa made the announcement at the company’s annual shareholder meeting today, held at Concordia University Wisconsin in Mequon. The company gave no indication of a timeline for the conversion.

“We will be monitoring this process very closely to ensure that the Valley Power Plant is converted as quickly as possible and every measure is taken to protect the health of residents in the area,” said Nekola.