Regulators approved plans on Thursday for the construction of a nearly $200 million, 150-megawatt solar farm in Sheboygan County, a project set for eventual purchase by Alliant Energy.
The Wisconsin Public Service Commission voted unanimously in favor of an application from the New York-based developer Ranger Power for the Onion River Solar farm. Once completed, the project will occupy about 1,400 acres of land in the town of Holland and produce enough electricity to power about 40,000 homes in Wisconsin.
“Our state’s electricity generation mix is shifting, which reduces our need to import fuel from and to pay money to other states and instead harness an energy source we have right here in the state,” said PSC Commissioner Tyler Huebner.
The project will be one of six solar farms around the state that Alliant Energy intends to purchase as part of its plan to develop 675 megawatts of solar power. All told, the utility is seeking to develop 1,100 megawatts of solar power by 2024.
With the approval on Thursday, the Onion River project became the latest in a series of large-scale solar farms to earn a go-ahead from the PSC in recent months. And the plans don’t stop there.
Earlier this month, the utility companies We Energies and Wisconsin Public Service sought permission to build a $650 million solar array and battery storage project, called the Koshkonong Energy Center, in Dane County. When completed, the project will be the largest of its type in the state.
As for the Onion River project, proponents of it noted the promise it holds of improving the local ecosystem. The land set aside for the project area is now taken up mainly by row crops. When the solar array is built, that farming will come to an end. Phosphorous runoff, which can cause oxygen loss in waterways, will decrease by 85% as a result, according to an analysis by Clean Wisconsin.
The project is also expected to generate about $600,000 a year in payments to local governments, far more than the $14,000 in property taxes the current landowners are now paying.
Thursday’s approval of the project came after members of the PSC found they had no authority to deal directly with opponents’ complaints. The commissioners noted that disputes about the project are fundamentally over local officials’ previous decision to enter into a development agreement for the solar farm with Ranger.
“There is a lot of passion there,” said Commissioner Ellen Nowak. “There are a lot of things that we’re not going to talk about at all today because it’s not our job.”
Ellen Houdavik, who will live near the solar farm after it’s completed, accused the project developer Ranger Power of fraud for “concealing” its intent to build a solar array in the town of Holland.
In contrast, Mike Koles, executive director of the Wisconsin Towns Association, praised Ranger for its work with the town of Holland and Sheboygan County, saying the company had shown “model developer characteristics.” All landowners within the project area have either voluntarily leased their property to the developer or offered it for sale. Follow @natebeck9