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40 Miles North Of Milwaukee, Debate Over Another Proposed Huge Solar Farm

The Wisconsin Public Service Commission is taking public comments about a proposed solar energy farm in southern Sheboygan County. The farm would have several hundred thousand panels, enough to power 20,000 homes.

State regulators are taking public comment on a plan to build a large solar energy farm 40 miles north of Milwaukee in the Town of Holland in Sheboygan County.

New York-based Ranger Power wants to put up several hundred thousand solar panels, enough to generate 150 megawatts of electricity and power more than 20,000 homes. The electricity would be sold to Alliant Energy. 

The project, called Onion River Solar, would cover about 1,900 acres near the Onion River. Ranger Power executive Sergio Trevino told a Wisconsin Public Service Commission (PSC) hearing Wednesday that the solar farm would connect to an existing power substation.

"This is a very important factor. Rather than building additional transmission infrastructure, which is expensive and requires additional use of the land, we would prefer to use existing transmission infrastructure,” he said.

About a dozen landowners, mostly farmers would receive lease payments from the company. Under a joint development agreement, Ranger Power is promising annual shared revenue payments of $350,000 to Sheboygan County and $250,000 to the Town of Holland.

Town Chairman Don Becker said concerns of neighbors of the proposed project have been addressed. "The executed joint development agreement has mitigated potential unfavorable impacts on the nonparticipating landowners and neighbors in the township,” he said.

But some neighbors are trying to block Onion River Solar.

Betty Polster said it would disturb a lot of wildlife. "What about their existing habitat? I do not oppose solar energy. I know we need to incorporate renewable energy as soon as possible. Just not locating it a mile from my house,” she said.

Another would-be neighbor of the solar farm, Ellie Hudovernik, cross-examined several backers of the project during a portion of the hearing for official parties to the Onion River Solar case. At one point, Hudovernik tried to get a commitment that construction would not take place on Sundays.

"We live in a very religious community. It was only a few years ago that the ministers of this community gave our local grocery store permission to be open Sunday. That gives you context,” said Hudovernik.

But Ranger Power’s Trevino refused to rule out Sunday construction. 

PSC staff will accept written comments on the Onion River Solar project through March 16. The three PSC commissioners may decide the case this spring.

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