Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility

New plans put state’s solar generation on path to double this year

By: Dan Shaw, [email protected]//February 24, 2016//

New plans put state’s solar generation on path to double this year

By: Dan Shaw, [email protected]//February 24, 2016//

Listen to this article

Amid an upswing in solar-energy projects in Wisconsin, two more utility companies announced plans Wednesday that will put the state on the road toward doubling its generation capacity this year.

Dairyland Power Cooperative, of La Crosse, announced that it had reached agreements with two developers to buy 15 megawatts from solar-power installations to be built at 12 sites throughout the state. Meanwhile, Xcel Energy Inc., of Minneapolis, said it is willing to purchase as many as 3 megawatts of power from so-called community solar gardens that are likewise planned for various places in Wisconsin.

Renewable-energy advocates hailed the announcements as perhaps marking the start of a new day for solar generation in Wisconsin.

“Wisconsin is coming off its best year ever for solar power, with 7.5 megawatts installed in 2015, three times more than any prior year,” Tyler Huebner, executive director of the nonprofit group RENEW Wisconsin, said in a statement released Wednesday. “Dairyland’s announcement ensures that 2016 will surpass that and become Wisconsin’s biggest year ever for solar. In fact, it’s quite possible that the amount of solar generation coming online in 2016 alone may double the 25 megawatts already in place when the year began.”

Dairyland, which sells power to 25 rural co-ops and 17 municipal utilities in four states, announced that its latest solar projects will be undertaken with the help of two developers: groSolar, of White River, Vt.; and SoCore Energy, of Chicago. Those companies will install solar equipment having the capacity to generate between 0.5 megawatt to 2.5 megawatts in Phillips, Viola, Roberts, Conrath, Necedah, Menomonie, Medford, Liberty Pole, Hillsboro, the town of Hallie, Eastman and Arcadia.

The developers will own and operate the projects and are expected to have them up and running by the fall. If all goes as planned, the projects will together be able to produce enough electricity to power 2,500 homes.

Xcel, the parent of Northern States Power Co.-Wisconsin, of Eau Claire, has meanwhile already marked out sites in Eau Claire and La Crosse counties for two community solar gardens, which provide investors with a means of collectively receiving the same sorts of power-generation credits and tax breaks that now go to individual owners of renewable-energy equipment. A separate company, Pristine Sun, of San Francisco, has been enlisted for the actual construction.

But before the work can get underway, Xcel officials want to see if there is enough investor interest to justify moving ahead, according to a company statement. To that end, Xcel plans to work with the nonprofit group Midwest Renewable Energy Association to hold 10 public meetings at various places throughout northern and western Wisconsin.

Investing in one kilowatt of generation at the proposed solar gardens will cost a resident $1,780. The minimum an investor can buy is 200 watts — which would run them $356 and would support enough generation to replace 3 percent of a homeowner’s average energy use. The maximum is 400 kilowatts.

For each kilowatt of generation, an investor will first have to make a downtpayment of $200. The remaining amount owed will then be due by the time the solar gardens go into operation.

In its statement, Xcel officials say their goal is to have the projects up and running by the end of the year. For that to happen, though, investors must show a significant amount of interest in the proposed solar gardens by mid-April.

Renewable-energy advocates praised the company’s plans. Chris Kunkle, regional policy manager for the nonprofit group Wind on the Wires, said Xcel has long been in the vanguard of utility companies that invest in these sorts of projects.

“And there is nothing inherently unique about Xcel or the way they are regulated,” Kunkle said. “They’ve just embraced the benefits of renewables more than any other utilities in our region. We’d love to see other companies do the same.”

Xcel said it plans to buy up to a megawatt each from the projects now planned for Eau Claire and La Crosse counties. Company officials are also willing to consider buying a third megawatt from another solar garden, should one eventually be built somewhere else in the state.

Xcel is now in the midst of a plan to reduce its reliance on coal for the production of power. The company’s goals are to reduce its carbon emissions by 60 percent by 2030 and to ensure that 63 percent of the sources it gets power from are carbon free by the same year.

Yet the company is also among those that have increased the so-called fixed charges that appear in roughly the same amounts on customers’ monthly energy bills regardless of how much power was used. Wisconsin utility regulators gave Xcel permission in December to increase its fixed charges from $8 a month to $14 a month.

Renewable-energy advocates often argue that such increases, by providing less control over monthly bills, weakens utility customers’ incentive to avoid buying electricity from a utility by generating it independently using solar panels or similar equipment.


Is the labor shortage getting:

View Results

Loading ... Loading ...

Today’s News

See All Today's News

Project Profiles

See All Project Profiles