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A proposed solar farm supported by We Energies draws heat in Dane County

A proposed solar farm in Dane County
A proposed solar farm supported by We Energies draws heat in Dane County.
Koshkonong Solar Energy Center
A map of the proposed facilities for the Koshkonong Solar Project.

A planned solar energy farm that We Energies wants to see developed in rural Dane County is proving to be very controversial.

The Koshkonong Solar Project would cover about 7,000 acres west of Cambridge, Wisconsin — mostly on farmland. It would generate 300 megawatts of power and use large batteries to store another 165 megawatts. The proposed project would be able to provide electricity for tens of thousands of homes and be the state's largest renewable energy development.

Koshkonong Solar Energy Center
A proposed solar farm supported by We Energies draws heat in Dane County.

But during two Public Service Commission hearings Thursday, some of the people who would live near the solar panels voiced their opposition.

Mark Weiss said it would be a "solar factory" that the project developer, the Invenergy corporation, could put anywhere.

"Why put it next to us? Why harm the economy, the environment, the cultural nature, the community? Why not put it in one of those brownlands, or whatever they're called?" Weiss testified.

Brownfields, or contaminated areas, can be used for solar farms. But Invenergy said the rural area near Cambridge has the suitable terrain for solar panels. Landowners, including many crop farmers that have agreed to host the Koshkonong panels, would be paid.

Nick Levendofsky, with Wisconsin Farmers Union, said that's a good thing. "WFU asks that farmers be considered part of the solution in developing a clean, independent energy policy," he said.

image - 2022-01-21T085306.628.png
PSC Administrative Law Judge Michael Newmark swears in witnesses during Thursday's public hearing, held on Zoom.

Other supporters said the large solar farms that are being built in parts of Wisconsin and elsewhere in the Midwest are a good way to reduce reliance on fossil fuels.

Patti LaCross of Madison said, "I've done quite a bit of reading, have panels on my house, have looked at the large sites around four states. I'm thrilled for the opportunity to make that a strong part of our renewable energy program."

But Carissa Lyle said the panels of Koshkonong Solar would be on three sides of her family's property in Christiana, a town in Dane County. "I have concerns about the safety of raising our growing children surrounded by this project," she said.

The PSC may vote on the proposal this spring.

If approved, WE Energies already wants to buy the development. The company said it would be "another key component in its effort to build a sustainable future and ensure electric reliability in the region."

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