Pierce County officials last week signed off on plans for the installation of a 74-megawatt solar array in the town of Gilman in western Wisconsin, the latest in a series of solar farms to earn approval in the state.
After a public hearing on the plan, a Pierce County commission granted a conditional-use permit on Aug. 19 for the so-called Western Mustang Solar farm, a project being developed by New York-based Ranger Power. Ranger plans to build the array on 479 acres in the township of Gilman, about 30 miles from the Minnesota border.
The county’s approval comes as a milestone for the project. Ranger, however, is still seeking a buyer for power generated at the solar farm and hasn’t set a schedule for when construction will begin.
“Ranger is committed to developing the Western Mustang Solar project in cooperation with the Pierce County community and our neighbors in the Town of Gilman,” Sergio Trevino, director of permitting at Ranger Power, said in a statement. “We incorporated community feedback into our conditional use permit application, and it’s clear that the land management committee and county staff recognized that.”
Jeff Holst, chairman of the Pierce County Board of Supervisors, said the company made changes to its project plan — such as agreeing to a 150-foot setback with 50-foot buffers — to win local officials over to the project.
Once built, the project is expected to generate nearly $300,000 a year in shared revenue payments, money that will be split by the county and the town of Gilman. Even with that generous offer, Holst said, the project has drawn mixed reactions from residents, some of whom think the solar farm will be a nuisance.
“It’s going to be neutral to good,” Host said. “It’s not going to send any kids to school. Nobody should catch COVID-19 from it. It has got its positives. It’s like any change, people don’t like change.”
To develop the solar farm, Ranger is leasing more than 1,000 acres of farmland in the town of Gilman from 17 landowner. Although winning the county’s approval was the biggest hurdle to overcome for the Mustang array, Franc Fennessey, a spokesman for the company, said Ranger is still working to secure permits from the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.
At the same time, the 74-megawatt array has no need for approval from the Wisconsin Public Service Commission for work on the project itself. PSC regulators, though, could have to step in if a utility were to strike a deal to buy power generated from the project, Fennessey said.
Ranger is developing a number of other large solar projects in Wisconsin. The PSC signed off in January on one of the company’s largest in the state: the 149-megawatt, $100 million Badger State Solar farm, which is being built in Jefferson, southeast of Madison. That project could employ about 500 construction workers. Dairyland power has an agreement to buy energy from the array.
Separately, Alliant Energy announced plans in May to buy two Ranger Power projects under development as part of a plan to purchase six solar projects worth $900 million in total. Those projects would generate 675 megawatts of power. Included in those plans are Ranger’s 150-megawatt Onion River Solar project in Sheboygan County and a 75-megawatt project in Jefferson County.Follow @natebeck9