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Regulators give OK to $650M Dane County solar farm

By: Nate Beck, [email protected]//April 7, 2022//

Regulators give OK to $650M Dane County solar farm

By: Nate Beck, [email protected]//April 7, 2022//

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State regulators on Thursday approved the construction of the $650 million Koshkonong solar farm in Dane County, a project that will result in the state’s largest utility-scale solar array when it’s finished.

The Wisconsin Public Service Commission voted 2-0 to sign off on the developer Invenergy’s plans for the Koshkonong Solar Energy Center after finding that they ware in keeping with the public interest. In approving a certificate of public convenience and necessity for the solar farm, state regulators overrode various objections made by local interests, including the town of Christiana, which had argued the project would interfere with “orderly land use” and the village’s development plans. The town separately argued that the Wisconsin Constitution prohibits the use of the sort of long-term lease that the project is to rely on.

But PSC Chair Rebecca Valcq said that contention didn’t fit with how courts have previously interpreted the state constitution. Valcq noted that many utility companies are now trying to curtail their reliance on coal generation and that the PSC has a responsibility to oversee how utilities go about making use of other forms of energy.

“In my mind, the opposition rises to the level of BANANA — build absolutely nothing anywhere near anything,” she said. “We don’t have that luxury. We have been faced with a transition that has been announced.”

In November, the PSC rejected arguments from Christiana and two local residents who contended that utilities were attempting to sidestep regulatory procedures by having the project developed as a so-called merchant plant, a designation that prevents regulators from evaluating its cost or need before its built. With merchant plants, state regulators instead have to look at those factors when considering proposals to purchase a solar farm.

The utilities that are developing the Koshkonong project, meanwhile, said they have strictly complied with the law. Commissioner Tyler Huebner recused himself from the discussions because of his previous work leading the clean energy advocate RENEW Wisconsin.

Work could begin as soon as this spring on the Koshkonong solar farm, which would have 300 megawatts of solar generation and 165 megawatts of battery storage on a 6,400-acre area in the towns of Christiana and Deerfield in rural Dane County. WEC Energy Group would own 90% of the project and Madison Gas & Electric would own the rest once it’s built. The work is expected to wrap up by the end of 2024.

The project’s solar array would be among the biggest in Wisconsin — on par with the 300 megawatt Badger Hollow Solar farm now under construction. It’s battery storage component would constitute the largest use of that technology in Wisconsin.

WEC Energy Group announced the project last spring as part of a series of solar farms and battery storage projects that the utility would develop to make up for its plans to retire 1,800 megawatts of coal generation.

Commissioner Ellen Nowak said the PSC may begin to see more contentious fights over the siting of new solar farms and other power generation sources as utilities continue to move away from coal-fired energy.

“This is just the beginning of this discussion. I think the low hanging fruit has begun to get picked off,” Nowak said. “It’s more noticeable to the public. But that’s the reality of moving to different generations.”


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