Onion River Solar is a proposed 150-megawatt solar generating facility to be located in southern Sheboygan County that will feature a prairie and pollinator environment. Ranger Power is developing the project and others in the state, including Badger State Solar and Crawfish River Solar, in Jefferson County, and Western Mustang Solar in northwest Wisconsin.
Photos from the North Star Solar project in North Branch, Minnesota, illustrate the type of pollinator and prairie habitat that will accompany Onion River. While grazing is not yet part of the Onion River project, the North Star Solar photos demonstrate the potential to graze livestock between solar panel rows, an exciting opportunity for solar in Wisconsin.
The Onion River Solar project will produce clean, cost-effective electric energy for Alliant Energy customers, provide a diversified income source for local farmers, and generate significant tax revenues for the town and county. This project can improve environmental outcomes ranging from reduced air emissions, reduced chemical use on local farmland, increased grassland and pollinator habitat and improved downstream water quality in parts of the Onion River watershed.
Onion River Solar is anticipated to avoid the generation of over 400 million pounds of CO2 per year. For more information on solar farms’ potential to reduce air emissions, you can see RENEW’s analysis of the 250 MW Darien Solar Farm’s health benefits.
The solar farm is expected to generate $250,000 per year in new revenue to the Town of Holland and $350,000 per year to Sheboygan County. Local governments can use these funds to meet pressing local budget priorities.
Onion River Solar represents a significant step forward to build Wisconsin’s renewable energy capacity and to shift away from fossil fuels.
The Public Service Commission is accepting comments on this project which must be received no later than Tuesday, March 16, 2021.
Additional project information, including a map, are available at www.OnionRiverSolar.com. If you have questions, please contact the project at (888) 898-8878 or email@example.com.
In April, I wrote about how the pandemic has changed our energy use, resulting in cleaner air. With increased adoption of renewable energy and electric vehicles, we can achieve clean air, a prospering economy, and improved public health.
The latest “State of the Air” report, analyzing air quality between 2016 and 2018, shows that air quality isn’t improving. Now, faced with a public health crisis, we must focus our efforts on protecting our communities from the impacts of poor air quality.
Evidence our air quality is getting worse
According to the American Lung Association’s “State of the Air” report, almost 50% of Americans lived in communities that had unhealthy air pollution levels in 2016-2018. Particle pollution and days of high ozone are also on the rise. This is the fourth consecutive annual report that shows air quality is getting worse, threatening the health of our communities.
On a brighter note, the Appleton–Oshkosh–Neenah area was ranked as one of the cleanest cities in the Nation for its year-round air quality and for having zero days of unhealthy particle pollution. La Crosse also got a shout-out for having zero days of unhealthy ozone or particulate levels.
But we still have work to do. Sheboygan and the Milwaukee–Racine–Waukesha region tied for #24 on the ‘highest levels of ozone pollution’ list. These residents should not be subject to unsafe air quality.
Air quality impacts public health
Wisconsin doctors attest to the linkage between air pollution and poor health outcomes. Luckily, clean energy technologies exist today that can help improve air quality.
“When you replace coal with solar it cleans the air and makes people healthier, today. When you replace a gas car with an electric it makes people healthier, today” noted Joel Charles MD, MPH at Vernon Memorial Healthcare.
More than ever, the world is keenly focused on health, and doctors and scientists around the world are learning more every day about the novel coronavirus.
“One of the most important learnings coming from the COVID-19 pandemic is that rapid changes in air quality can have immediate and substantive benefits in terms of reduced cardiorespiratory morbidity and mortality,” said Bruce Barrett MD Ph.D., Professor & Vice Chair for Research, Family Medicine and Community Health at University of Wisconsin – Madison. “In more than two decades of work as a family physician, I have been continually impressed with the importance of environmental quality, especially the protective attributes of clean air.”
“Air pollution is a silent killer. It never makes it onto the death certificate, but, among other things, it worsens heart disease, asthma, COPD, kidney disease, immune function, and harms childhood brain development,” confirmed Andrew Lewandowski, DO, Pediatrician at GHC-SCW.
And, these impacts are not shared evenly. Lower-income and nonwhite communities often face higher exposure to pollution and unsafe air quality. Dr. Lewandoski added that “Improving air quality disproportionately benefits children, elderly, people with chronic medical conditions, people of color, and economically disadvantaged populations.”
We can learn from public health experts and take action to reduce harmful emissions by adopting renewable energy and reducing our dependence on fossil fuels. People from both sides of the political aisle agree on many clean energy issues, such as maintaining current fuel efficiency standards and prioritizing renewable energy.
“Air pollution harms all people, independent of political affiliation. Regardless of how you vote, let your legislator know that you support cleaning our air because you value your health” Dr. Lewandowski said.
We have an opportunity right now to lock in the benefits of clean, healthy air. Cleaner air benefits all of Wisconsin and makes our state a better place to live, work, and play.
It’s been two weeks since Governor Evers’ Safer at Home Order came into effect. Our thoughts are with everyone affected by COVID-19 and those working to keep our communities safe and healthy.
This “new normal” means vehicles are staying parked, stores are temporarily closed, and the way we use energy is changing dramatically. In many large cities normally plagued with air pollution, it means unprecedented blue skies and fresh air. Experts predict this flow of fresh air will only be temporary, but here at RENEW, we are working toward a future where our air is always clean. We know this reality can be achieved with more renewable power and electrified transportation.
Less Travel Means Cleaner Skies
From China to Chicago, air quality has improved exponentially since stay-at-home orders were initiated. In Chicago, the nitrous oxide levels in the air have decreased dramatically, and it’s estimated that the improved air quality in Wuhan, China has saved 50,000 lives. All over the internet you can find pictures of the Venice canals and Los Angeles Valley looking cleaner than we’ve seen in decades.
We are by no means doing a cost-benefit analysis on the coronavirus impacts – the devastating impacts of this novel virus will be felt for years to come. However, it can be a useful and important reminder that clean air is better and possible for everyone. There is mounting evidence that poor air quality can actually make people more susceptible to catch COVID-19 and other respiratory viruses, and it could make treatment more complicated too.
Clean Energy Makes Resilient Communities
This newfound clean air can stay. Clean energy technologies like the ones RENEW has been touting for decades have the ability to keep our air clean and our communities safe. Electric vehicles don’t have a tailpipe; they operate without producing emissions in densely populated areas. Clean power generation means areas near power plants no longer suffer the negative health impacts of fossil fuel emissions.
When our health is secure and we start to rebuild our economy, it’s important that we lock in the benefits that clean air can offer us. Now, more than ever, we need to prioritize the public health benefits of accessible, affordable, clean and safe energy.