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Solar farm deserves PSC approval

Wisconsin gets more than half of its electricity from burning coal, which spews greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, contributing to a warming planet and severer droughts and storms.

Wisconsin badly needs to generate more clean and renewable energy instead.

So it’s easy to endorse plans for a large solar farm in southwestern Wisconsin. A dozen landowners in western Iowa County, about 60 miles west of Madison, have agreed to play host to a 300-megawatt solar facility, generating enough electricity to power more than 70,000 homes.

That’s a lot of energy — drawn directly and efficiently from the sun. Instead of digging coal from the ground in other states, shipping it here by train and burning it, and thus exacerbating climate change, the Chicago company Invenergy and two Wisconsin utilities want to place 1.2 million solar panels on 2,700 acres.

The proposed Badger Hollow Solar Farm would be one of the largest of its kind in the country, and save Wisconsin consumers millions of dollars over time, according to Madison Gas and Electric and WE Energies. The utilities plan to purchase half of the solar panels, which have fallen in price, after they are installed.

Some neighbors worry about possible consequences for their properties and quality of life. That’s understandable. The Driftless Area in southwestern Wisconsin features rolling hills and natural beauty.

The state Public Service Commission should ensure the panels are set back a reasonable distance from property lines. The PSC also should require the developers to plan ahead for the replacement or removal of solar panels when they wear out in 30 years.

Although some neighbors may have valid concerns, those worries must be weighed against the larger needs of our state and society. A report last fall by the United Nations’ scientific panel on climate change warned that greenhouse gases in the atmosphere are altering the planet faster than thought and could cost tens of trillions of dollars in damages if ignored.

The proposed solar farm would help reduce Wisconsin’s heavy reliance on coal and other fossil fuels, while encouraging further investment in clean energy.

Solar panels are less intrusive than wind turbines dotting the skyline. They also will benefit farmers. The developers of Badger Hollow plan to pay landowners some $1.8 million a year in rent. In addition, Iowa County will get about $700,000 a year in shared utility revenue, and three host towns will share $500,000. On top of that, the developers have offered to replace property tax revenue that’s lost to local schools, technical colleges, fire and ambulance districts.

That’s a lot to like from a clean and quiet energy source that won’t pollute the planet with harmful emissions. The PSC should give this worthy project its approval.

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