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Wind-chill advisories still in effect; Use of solar energy slow in Wisconsin; More state news

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Winds are either light or non-existent in most of Wisconsin, but the National Weather Service still has wind-chill advisories out for virtually all of the state.

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Most parts of the state have wind-chill advisories until noon. The advisories end at 9 a.m. for 13 counties between Milwaukee, Madison and Platteville.

The actual temperatures are the biggest problems this morning. They were as low as minus 30 at 6 a.m. in Tomahawk, Land O'Lakes, Hayward and Phillips in the far north.

Much of southern Wisconsin was in the single digits below -- much warmer than the past couple of days. Milwaukee was the so-called warm spot at minus four. It's colder away from Lake Michigan. Madison was at minus 11.

All of Wisconsin is expected to rise above zero this afternoon for the first time in over a week. Sub-zero readings are predicted again tonight before a new system brings warmer temperatures and a chance of snow or rain from tomorrow into the weekend. Highs in the teens and 20's are projected for tomorrow. It could reach the 30's by Friday.

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Use of solar energy slow in Wisconsin

The amount of electricity generated by solar panels is not growing nearly as much in Wisconsin as it is elsewhere.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel said solar generation was expected to rise nationally by 27% in 2013, to about 4,300 megawatts. In Wisconsin, only two megawatts of solar power are being built, and half that comes from the Jefferson Solar project in Jefferson County.

The group Renew Wisconsin will hold a conference on the subject Friday in Madison. Those in attendance plan to discuss new policy ideas that could restore the state's renewable energy efforts.

The group plans to use the language of the Walker administration -- creating jobs. Carl Siegrist, a former head of renewable energy projects at We Energies, said Wisconsin could have a lot of nice jobs in the field, but it doesn't.

Utilities have developed fewer solar projects in the wake of government funding and incentive cuts. State officials and utility leaders have said they want to make sure solar energy does not add to the electric bills of those without panels.

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88-year-old man dies in garage fire

An autopsy is planned for an 88-year-old man killed in a garage fire near Jackson in Washington County.

Sheriff's deputies said the man was apparently trying to start a car when the blaze began yesterday morning. It destroyed the vehicle and caused smoke damage to the garage which was not attached to a nearby house.

The fire remains under investigation. Officials do not suspect foul play.

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Switch to 10-digit dialing delayed in eastern Wisconsin

Homes and businesses in eastern Wisconsin will not have to worry about dialing 10 digits for local phone calls -- not for a while anyway.

The state Public Service Commission has indefinitely delayed plans to have new phone numbers in the 920 zone use an overlapping area code of 274.

The move was ordered because cellphones and FAX machines were snapping up available 920 numbers. However, WLUK TV in Green Bay says over a million possible 920 numbers remain unassigned so the additional area code in that location is being held up indefinitely.

Users of 920 users planning to dial the area code for their local calls starting Jan. 25, but the PSC says that's off for now. The change affects mainly landline users. Most cell users are accustomed to dialing area codes for all their calls.

The same change took effect a few years ago in central and northern Wisconsin, where new numbers in the 715 zone were given the area code of 534. Officials say it's easier than carving out a whole zone for a new area code where people would have to change their speed-dials and business stationery.

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Gogebic reps plan individual meets with neighbors

Gogebic Taconite plans to meet with its northern Wisconsin neighbors today to update them on its proposed iron ore mine.

The firm has been taking appointments to meet with folks individually in Hurley, Saxon, Ashland and Mellen. Company officials say the personal meetings prevent residents from being intimidated at public hearings by politically motivated opponents. The company held a similar round of personal meetings in November.

The project is no less controversial than it was last spring when the state Legislature agreed to speed up Gogebic's process for getting a state permit. Last month, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said it would not work with the state on a joint environmental impact statement. Officials say the federal document could come about a year later than the state's review.

Gogebic said it could apply for a formal state mining permit by the end of 2014 at the earliest. In the meantime, the company is answering dozens of Department of Natural Resources questions about plans for testing rock and handling storm water at the proposed mining site.

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Plea negotiations in progress for driver accused of killing deer hunter

A plea deal may be in the works for an alleged drunk driver accused of killing a deer hunter and injuring another in northern Wisconsin.

The lawyer for James Winchel 42, of Sheldon said talks are taking place on possible settlements, but he did not elaborate.

Time limits for a preliminary hearing were waived when Winchel made an initial appearance in Taylor County Circuit Court yesterday on four criminal charges. They include causing death and injury by drunk driving.

Prosecutors said Winchel's blood alcohol level was .196, almost 2.5 times the legal limit, when he allegedly hit two members of a hunting party near Gilman on Nov. 29. Juan Salinas, 52, of Roscoe, Ill., was killed and one of his relatives and Winchel were hospitalized with injuries.

A pretrial conference in the case is set for March 14. Winchel also faces a traffic citation for driving without insurance.

Circuit Judge Ann Knox-Bauer refused to reduce Winchel's $50,000 bond -- which could have allowed him to enter substance abuse treatment. Winchel has been convicted of OWI four previous times since 1998.

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Elderly man dies in Manitowoc house fire

An elderly man has died in a house fire in Manitowoc.

He was the only person in the home when firefighters responded around 8 p.m. last night. They were told there was heavy smoke, visible flames and a possible victim inside.

Officials said the man was removed and taken to a hospital where resuscitation efforts failed. Manitowoc County deputy coroner Jeffrey Schroeder said the victim was not identified, and an autopsy is planned for today.

Fire Battalion Chief Tim Herzog said the blaze was brought under control about an hour after units were called. One crew stayed overnight. Five other fire and rescue departments responded.

The Salvation Army provided hot beverages for firefighters working in sub-zero temperatures. A city bus was used as a warming shelter. The state fire marshal is helping Manitowoc authorities investigate the cause of the blaze.

--Damon Ryan, WOMT, Manitowoc

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Teachers’ unions discuss merger

Wisconsin's two major teachers' unions are thinking about merging.

The Wisconsin Education Association Council and the American Federation of Teachers have drafted initial governance documents for a group to be called "Wisconsin Together." It comes about 2 1/2 years after the state's Act 10 public union bargaining limits in which school unions lost their ability to bargain for working conditions and pay levels above inflation.

Members of both state school unions will vote on a possible merger April 26 in Green Bay.

Since Act 10 took effect, WEAC has lost about a-third of its members, and AFT is down by more than half from its peak membership.

Both have asked their national groups for the approval to merge. Unions in five other states -- Minnesota, North Dakota, Florida, Montana and New York -- have taken the same steps

AFT-Wisconsin's new president, Kim Kohlhass, told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that a newly merged union would provide professional development and other resources to its members, while advocating to lawmakers and the state's education agency.

Dues are reported to be a sticking point, but WEAC leaders say they won't change drastically under a merger. If it's approved, it would take effect in September with a two-year transition period.

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Development agency seeks OK for private fundraising

Lawmakers plan to wait a while before approving a fundraising foundation for the state's job creation agency.

The Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation has asked the Joint Finance Committee to create a charitable foundation and for approval to spend some the agency's current surplus of $34 million dollars.

The panel meets today, and Republican co-chair Alberta Darling says it will act on the surplus but not the foundation request.

"We have to do it right," said Darling.

The proposed foundation would seek donations from private companies to expand economic efforts statewide. It would have policies to prevent conflicts of interest and be subject to public scrutiny under the Open Records Law.

However, other details have yet to be worked out, including whether the foundation would have its own employees instead of WEDC personnel. The agency has built up surpluses from the business taxes it receives as well as its cash reserves. Democrats on the finance panel say the agency needs to use its full available resources so Wisconsin can stop lagging behind the national average in job growth.

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Dairy goat conference planned

Wisconsin dairy goat farmers can learn more next month about improving the quality of their products. A conference on the subject will be held Feb. 7-8 at UW-Platteville.

State agriculture officials say the meeting will let dairy goat farmers share ideas about selecting goats, as well as feeding and providing health care for the animals.

Wisconsin had the nation's largest number of dairy goats --around 46,000 -- in 2012. Over a dozen processors in the state use goat-milk for making cheese.

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Flu sends more to hospital in Milwaukee

More Milwaukeeans have recently landed in the hospital with the flu.

City health officials say over 100 people have been hospitalized this season.

Mayor Tom Barrett and Milwaukee Health Commissioner Bevan Baker say there's still time to be vaccinated. They're urging everyone six months and older to get flu shots if they haven't already.

Last week, a Marshfield Clinic doctor said the H1N1 swine flu has become the dominant flu strain in central Wisconsin. Officials say this year's vaccine covers the swine flu, which is not nearly as prevalent as it was four years ago when Wisconsin had a pandemic.

Reports from last week said almost 400 state residents have been hospitalized for the flu this winter. Officials in both Milwaukee and central Wisconsin say there's been an increase in young and middle-aged adults being hospitalized.

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Eight young cranes arrive at eastern refuge

Eight Wisconsin whooping cranes are starting to meet other birds at a refuge in Florida in an ongoing effort to boost the endangered crane population.

Operation Migration said the eight baby cranes arrived at Saint Mark's National Wildlife Refuge Sunday. The final leg of their journey was held up for a few days by high winds, but with the help of ultralight pilots, they've now completed a 96-day, 1,100-mile journey.

The trip started Oct. 2 when the birds left a state wildlife area in Green Lake County. It was Operation Migration's 13th annual trip to boost the crane population in the eastern U.S.

The Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership said there are now 109 birds in the wild in eastern North America. The partnership released nine other birds directly from the Horicon Marsh. The group now says that seven of the birds remain alive. They were on various parts of the route at last word. Four other birds were released by parents on an experimental basis.

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