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WE Energies Unveils Mitchell Airport Solar Farm, Announces Plans For New Farm In Rock & Walworth Counties

Mitchell Airport Solar Panel
Chuck Quirmbach
One of the long solar arrays at the new solar energy farm at Milwaukee's Mitchell Airport.

A small solar energy farm built on an old city of Milwaukee landfill near General Mitchell Airport is now producing about two megawatts of electricity — enough for about 500 homes. It's a cooperative project between the Milwaukee, WE Energies and the Wisconsin Air National Guard 128th Refueling Wing. The Guard's base is just north of the 7,200 solar panels.

Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett said it's the largest solar project in city history, and part of his "all of the above" solar strategy.

"All of the above — this means I continue to support a robust and competitive market for rooftop solar energy, as well as large-scale renewable energy projects through collaboration with our local utility We Energies,” he said.

The utility paid for development of the nine-acre solar farm and gets to sell the electricity to customers, but in return will make annual lease payments to Milwaukee of about $90,000.

On Tuesday, WE Energies also announced a much larger solar farm proposal, aiming to have it built in Walworth and Rock Counties, near the Village of Darien. The site would produce 250 megawatts of electricity, and be able to store 75 megawatts in large storage batteries.

Press Conference, Milwaukee Airport Solar Farm, Tom Metcalfe
Chuck Quirmbach
WE Energies President Tom Metcalfe speaks at a Tuesday news conference at the site of a small solar energy farm on the grounds of Milwaukee's Mitchell Airport.

We Energies President Tom Metcalfe said a partner firm, Invenergy, would build the solar farm, and promised to listen to any neighbor concerns.

"We will conduct a very thorough environmental assessment and ensure that everybody's views and thoughts are being shared and considered,” he said.

The Wisconsin Public Service Commission still has to approve the Darien project. WE Energies also plans to build a solar farm and battery storage facility in Kenosha County, as part of an effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

The firm also expects to retire part of its Oak Creek power plant in a few years. But Metcalfe said shutting down all of the plant is still not in the cards.

"If you take a look at how we performed during the very cold weeks of February, it was really essential we have that diverse portfolio of generation. Our coal units ran exceedingly well, as did our gas units and our renewable plants as well, which were fitted to operate in very, very cold conditions,” he said.

Environmental groups and some neighbors have been pushing for a total closing of the Oak Creek power plant. There's also controversy regarding WE Energies' plans to build liquified natural gas plants in Walworth and Jefferson Counties for use during peak demand times.

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Chuck Quirmbach joined WUWM in August 2018. He focuses his longform stories on health, innovation, science, technology, transportation, utilities and business.