Alliant Energy on Wednesday said it plans to spend about $500 million to develop more than 400 megawatts of solar power at six sites in the state, making the utility the largest solar operator in Wisconsin.
The utility previously announced plans to develop 1,000 megawatts of solar power in Wisconsin by the end of 2023. Alliant last spring announced plans for 675 megawatts of solar, a $900 million investment in six projects.
Six more projects would generate a combined 414 megawatts of solar power and could create about 800 construction jobs.
The utility said its $1.4 billion investment in solar projects will help stave off about $2 billion in long-term costs associated with maintaining coal-fired power infrastructure. Alliant’s investment in solar comes as it plans to retire its coal-fired power plants.
The utility in February said it would close its Columbia County coal plant — the state’s second-largest — by 2024. The 1,100-megawatt operation is the last coal-fired plant the utility operates in Wisconsin. Alliant last spring also said it would close its Edgewater coal plant in Sheboygan by 2022.
The utility is working toward eliminating coal from its mix of energy sources by 2040 and is meant to reduce carbon emissions by 50% by 2030. Wisconsin’s five-largest investor-owned utilities have each pledged to go carbon-neutral by 2050.
“Guided by our purpose-driven strategy to serve customers and build strong communities, we are accelerating our transition to cleaner energy,” stated David de Leon, President of Alliant Energy’s Wisconsin energy company. “This continued transition is a smart investment, benefitting our customers long-term, while also creating hundreds of jobs across the state and providing local communities with shared-revenues.”
Alliant would self-develop five of its six planned solar projects. The developments are planned for mostly rural sites in Dodge, Grant, Green, Rock and Waushara counties. The utility would purchase a 100-megawatt project in Dodge County developed by Minneapolis-based National Grid Renewables, called the Springfield solar farm.
The utility said the projects would generate $50 million in lease payments for local governments annually. Landowners would also receive a combined $60 million in payments over 30 years.
“This provides tremendous potential for these communities,” said Mike Koles, Executive Director of the Wisconsin Towns Association. “Based on research and dialogue with our members that have partnered with Alliant Energy on previous solar projects, we’ve concluded that Alliant Energy’s development process has been overwhelmingly positive and illustrates model developer behavior that should be mimicked in future solar project planning.”
Alliant is still awaiting regulatory approval from the Wisconsin Public Service Commission for the six solar projects the utility announced it would develop last year. It also plans to seek approval for the six projects it announced it would develop Wednesday.
The utility said the 12 solar projects it is developing will help it source nearly half of its energy from renewables by 2025, making it “well-positioned” to achieve its goal of reducing its carbon emissions 50% from 2005 levels by 2030.
Other Wisconsin utilities have also coupled large green energy projects with coal plant retirements recently. We Energies earlier this month said it would spend $446 million on a solar farm and battery-storage project in Rock and Walworth Counties. In February, the utility announced plans to spend $426 million on the Paris Solar Farm in Kenosha County, developing a 200-megawatt solar array and 110 megawatts of battery storage.
The utility’s investments in solar and battery storage come after it said last fall that it would retire 1,800 megawatts of fossil fuel generation in the next five years by closing part of its coal-fired plant in Oak Creek. Follow @natebeck9