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Solar project divides rural Wisconsin county

Ken Wunderlin, seen here at his farm on Dec. 17, has agreed to rent 160 acres of his land in Iowa County to a developer planning a 300-megawatt solar project. Wunderlin said the development will be a good way to earn money while supporting clean energy and taking farmland out of production at no cost to taxpayers. (Chris Hubbuch/Wisconsin State Journal via AP)

Ken Wunderlin, seen here at his farm on Dec. 17, has agreed to rent 160 acres of his land in Iowa County to a developer planning a 300-megawatt solar project. Wunderlin said the development will be a good way to earn money while supporting clean energy and taking farmland out of production at no cost to taxpayers. (Chris Hubbuch/Wisconsin State Journal via AP)

DODGEVILLE, Wis. (AP) — Residents in a rural Wisconsin county are split over a Chicago developer’s plan to work with two Wisconsin utilities to build a solar farm that would include more than 1 million solar panels.

The Wisconsin State Journal reports that the Badger Hollow Solar Farm proposed by Invenergy would take up 2,700 acres in Iowa County and could power more than 70,000 homes. The project is seeking a permit from the Wisconsin Public Service Commission.

Ken Wunderlin, a southwest Wisconsin farmer, said he agreed to have part of the solar farm on his land because the project would be good for his finances. He believes it’s also a chance to obtain energy from a green source.

“I’m a firm believer in the science on global warming,” he said. “We need to be taking steps to get away from coal-fired power . this is my small opportunity to be a participant.”

Renewable-energy advocates have hailed the project as offering utilities a way to produce low-cost, clean energy within the state while providing some $1.8 million a year in rents for hard-pressed sharecroppers like Wunderlin.

“We think of it as a complete win for the state of Wisconsin,” said Michael Vickerman, policy director for Renew Wisconsin. “We’re talking about renewable generation completely located within the state of Wisconsin. It is clean. It is quiet. It yields a great deal of financial benefits to the landowners and the surrounding communities.”

But not everyone in Iowa County is welcoming the development.

Richard Jinkins, a southwest farmer who lives just east of Wunderlin’s land on a 400-acre farm, said he’s worried that the farm will harm the area’s scenic beauty, take up valuable farmland and lead to a reduction in the county’s population, which is now at 23,687.

Jinkins, along with two other nearby farmers, are leading the charge against the project, which is now going through the Wisconsin Public Service Commission’s permitting process.

“In the best case (it’s) going to make a solar panel wasteland where nobody’s going to live,” said Jinkins, a computer programmer who also raises cash crops. “It’s not going to be the Driftless area. It’s going to be the utility district of southwest Wisconsin.”

Copyright 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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