Alliant Hitches its Future to Solar Power

Alliant Hitches its Future to Solar Power

The volume of solar generation slated to supply power to Wisconsin electricity customers would nearly double if state regulators approve Madison-based Alliant Energy’s ambitious plan to acquire six Wisconsin solar farms for its generation portfolio. Alliant’s application will be filed shortly.

Spanning the state from Grant County in the west to Sheboygan County in the east, the six farms will provide 675 megawatts (MW) of capacity, nearly matching the combined solar commitments made by other Wisconsin utilities thus far. 


ALLIANT ENERGY’S PLANNED SOLAR ACQUISITIONS


The projected output from this massive investment in solar generation equates to the average usage of 175,000 Wisconsin households. If approved, Alliant would become the largest provider of solar power in Wisconsin by a large margin (see Table 1).

TABLE 1: RATE-BASING WISCONSIN SOLAR FARMS

This is an astonishing jump from the two megawatts of solar power supplying electricity to Alliant’s Wisconsin customers today. Though Wisconsin has about 150 MW of operating solar capacity right now, by year’s end that number should surpass 300 MW, when the 150 MW Two Creeks plant in Manitowoc County is placed in service.  And by the end of 2021, solar capacity in Wisconsin should be within striking distance of a gigawatt (1,000 MW). 

This fleet of solar farms will fill the capacity hole that will materialize in late 2022 when Alliant shuts down its 35-year-old Edgewater 5 power station in Sheboygan for good. Earlier this month, Alliant announced plans to retire the 385 MW coal-fired plant in the next two years. Like many other coal plants in Wisconsin and elsewhere, Edgewater 5 has become an increasingly marginal power source, displaced by lower-cost gas-fired and renewable generating capacity.     

Though the shutdown of Edgewater 5 can proceed without approval from Wisconsin’s Public Service Commission, the addition of the six solar farms to Alliant’s rate base automatically triggers a PSCW review process. To obtain regulatory approval, Alliant must demonstrate that these six solar farms will reduce its operating costs and provide other tangible benefits to customers without sacrificing reliability.   

Alliant’s investment in this tranche of solar capacity should amount to about $900 million and will take the utility two-thirds of the way towards its goal of adding a gigawatt of solar generation by the end of 2024.

As with the first crop of solar farms approved in 2019 and earlier this year, the development work is being undertaken by independent power producers (see Table 2). Two of the projects–Savion Energy’s 49.9 MW Richland County solar farm and Geronimo Energy’s 50 MW North Rock solar farm–have already been approved for construction, but the remaining four require siting permits. The PSCW has jurisdiction over the three largest solar farms, and will issue decisions in late 2020 and early 2021. Jefferson County will review the 75 MW Ranger Power project later this year. Assuming the PSCW green-light’s Alliant’s application to acquire the projects, all six solar farms should be operating before the close of 2023.

TABLE 2: ALLIANT ENERGY’S PLANNED SOLAR ACQUISITIONS

In each year of operation, these projects will pump a combined $2.7 million into the coffers of host counties and townships. Over 30 years, revenues to local governments will top $80 million. Participating landowners will also reap economic dividends in the form of rental income. 

One can access Alliant’s application and supporting documents from the PSCW under Docket No. 6680-CE-182. In all likelihood, the PSCW will make its decision on Alliant’s application in early 2021. To learn more about solar farms in Wisconsin visit RENEW’s frequently asked questions page.

Alliant’s application represents a major milestone in the development and provision of renewable energy in Wisconsin.  Whether undertaken by utilities, local governments, businesses or residents, each new investment in solar and wind power generation strengthens Wisconsin’s economy and builds cleaner, healthier, and more resilient communities.

 

Solar energy at Dane County airport cleared for takeoff

Solar energy at Dane County airport cleared for takeoff

The Public Service Commission this week signed off on the newest solar farm slated for construction this year in Dane County. This solar power plant will cover 58 acres at the northern end of Dane County Regional Airport, and will involve more than 31,000 panels mounted on single-axis tracking systems. Madison Gas & Electric (MGE) will own and operate the solar plant, and expects to complete construction in the fourth quarter of 2020.

MGE’s solar field is noteworthy in that it will produce clean electricity for only one customer: Dane County. This will be the first example in Wisconsin of an offsite solar project dedicated to a single customer, albeit one with multiple facilities in MGE territory.

Through a long-term contract with MGE, Dane County will purchase the project’s output to offset its own purchases of grid-supplied electricity over the course of the facility’s 30-year-plus life. At nine megawatts (MW), the facility should produce on average 18 million kilowatt-hours a year. All told, the solar farm’s output should equate to about 40% of the electricity consumed at county-owned facilities served by MGE.

The PSC decision contained two separate approvals. First, the agency approved the power purchase agreement between MGE and Dane County, which is provided through the utility’s Renewable Energy Rider service. Under the contract, Dane County will pay 5.8 cents/kWh for electricity generated in the first year of operation, which will result in immediate savings. That price will escalate 2% per year over the contract’s term, which should track closely with anticipated increases in utility energy costs. After 30 years, Dane County will have paid off MGE’s entire investment.

The PSC also authorized the expenditure of $16 million to permit, build, and operate the solar field at the airport. The installed cost of the project equates to $1.78/watt, in line with other, smaller utility-owned projects such as MGE’s 5 MW facility now under construction at Middleton’s Morey Field.

Dane County is the third MGE customer to take service from an offsite solar array built under the Renewable Energy Rider service, following in the footsteps of the City of Middleton and the Middleton-Cross Plains Area School district. Those two customers have committed to purchase the output from a combined 1.5 MW share of the Morey Field solar array, which should commence operations in June 2020.

Notwithstanding its voluntary nature, MGE’s Renewable Energy Rider program has proven to be an attractive option for local governments that have adopted aggressive clean energy goals but are limited in their capacity to host solar systems on all their facilities. Later this year, MGE will file an application to build a 7 MW solar farm to serve the City of Madison and the Madison Metropolitan School District (MMSD). As with Dane County, MGE is the electric provider for many facilities owned by the City and MMSD. The solar array will be located near the Dane County Landfill in southeast Madison.

 

‘Wisconsin Clean Energy Toolkit’ is a guidebook for a cleaner future

‘Wisconsin Clean Energy Toolkit’ is a guidebook for a cleaner future

RENEW Wisconsin, Wisconsin Conservation Voters, and Sierra Club have released the Wisconsin Clean Energy Toolkit: Developing a Clean Energy Plan for Your Community.

Towns, villages, cities, and counties in Wisconsin are building the renewable energy economy. The Wisconsin Clean Energy Toolkit recognizes this leadership in Wisconsin communities and the opportunities to expand these efforts across the state.

As part of its statewide launch, clean energy leaders, including Wisconsin State Treasurer Sarah Godlewski, addressed members of the media and the public across the state on March 10th, 2020 to announce the release.

“The Wisconsin Clean Energy Toolkit will help communities develop clean energy plans, which are good for the environment and also can be good for a community’s bottom line,” said State Treasurer Sarah Godlewski. “I’ve seen this firsthand as the Chair of a $1.2 billion trust fund, how we’ve helped local governments finance projects such as solar panels that saved taxpayers’ money. I hope communities across the state see us as a partner in their projects to address climate change and lower energy costs.”

Local communities across Wisconsin are eager to develop and implement clean energy plans. Often, they struggle with how to begin from a technical perspective and how to engage their communities.

“Smaller communities often lack the staff to conduct clean energy assessments and make recommendations,” said Jennifer Giegerich, Government Affairs Director for Wisconsin Conservation Voters. “This toolkit is a comprehensive resource for those considering a commitment to clean energy.”

The Wisconsin Clean Energy Toolkit is a comprehensive guide to energy policy options in Wisconsin. The toolkit is a resource designed to help guide communities of varying sizes and with differing resources as they consider, craft, and implement clean energy policies, and how to ensure the greatest return on potential clean energy investments.

“Local governments have heard from their residents; they want to shift to clean, renewable energy,” said Heather Allen, Program Director for RENEW Wisconsin. “But they need resources and technical support to make the transition.  This toolkit offers practical strategies to help communities access affordable clean energy.”

“The Public Service Commission’s Office of Energy Innovation is committed to delivering programs that have a measurable impact on our state, this is why we’ve supported the Energy Independent Communities and will continue to support (with grants and technical assistance like this guide) communities and Tribal Nations on the road to our clean energy future,” Megan Levy, Local Energy Programs Manager & Energy Assurance Coordinator, Office of Energy Innovation, Public Service Commission of Wisconsin.

The Clean Energy Toolkit provides information to help local communities including:

  • How to understand current state policies and regulations that impact energy use in Wisconsin
  • Guidance on how to commit to clean energy
  • How to build support in the community for clean energy policies
  • How to establish a baseline of current energy use in the community, and how to set benchmarks to track progress toward long-range goals
  • Defines equitable carbon reduction strategies that protect vulnerable communities when making the transition to clean energy, and how to ensure all impacted constituencies have a voice at the decision-making table
  • Provides an overview of various financing options available to local governments to pursue clean energy

“As Wisconsinites demand action on climate change, local communities are answering those calls,” said Elizabeth Ward, Director for Sierra Club Wisconsin.  “We’re glad to provide a resource for those communities as they demonstrate the leadership we’re missing at the federal level.”

The toolkit is available to download at www.wicleanenergytoolkit.com. For additional information, questions, or to request a paper copy of the toolkit, please contact Heather Allen (heather@renewwisconsin.org)

Visit www.wicleanenergytoolkit.com to learn more.

“Badger State Solar” Project in Jefferson County Gets PSC Approval

“Badger State Solar” Project in Jefferson County Gets PSC Approval

Today, the Public Service Commission of Wisconsin approved another solar farm: the Badger State Solar Farm to be located in Jefferson County, Wisconsin.

Badger State will be a 149-megawatt solar farm, and will supply electricity to Dairyland Power Cooperative. Dairyland is a wholesale energy provider for 24 rural electric cooperatives, 18 of which are located in Wisconsin. Dairyland also provides energy to an additional seventeen municipal electric utilities, ten of which are in Wisconsin.

The solar project’s developer is Ranger Power, one of RENEW Wisconsin’s Business Members.

This project marks the fourth solar farm approved by the Wisconsin PSC in the past 9 months, and the solar projects approved now total 699 megawatts. Badger State should be operational by 2021.

The project is expected to generate enough renewable energy to power over 20,000 homes, according to a Dairyland Power news release from March 2019, when their power purchase agreement was announced.

The project was given a unanimous verbal approval today, and a final order will follow in the next few weeks. This was the final decision made by retiring Commissioner Mike Huebsch, who announced his retirement earlier this month.

RENEW Wisconsin’s Executive Director Tyler Huebner said, “The Badger State Solar will continue Wisconsin’s steady march towards a clean, renewable energy future, and will help Dairyland Power Cooperative meet its goals to increase the sustainability and diversity of its power generation sources. Congratulations to Ranger Power and Dairyland Power Cooperative on this project approval!”

Statistics about the Badger State Solar Farm

  • 149 megawatts
  • Expected to produce enough electricity for about 20,000 Dairyland Power Cooperative customers each year
  • Electricity Production will be about 0.4% of Wisconsin’s total 2018 electricity sales, and about 8% of Dairyland Power’s 2018 Wisconsin retail sales.
  • Located on approximately 1,200 acres which is 0.5% of Jefferson County’s farmland
  • The project developer expects to utilize pollinator-friendly plants under the solar panels that will help rejuvenate the soil underneath the array.
  • Under Wisconsin’s energy generation shared revenue law and renewable energy incentive payment laws, the local governments where the arrays are located will receive a substantial economic boost: Jefferson County will receive approximately $348,000 annually, the Town of Jefferson $125,000 annually, and the Town of Oakland $123,000 annually.

 

Statistics about the 4 solar farms approved by the PSC

Badger Hollow Solar (Iowa County), Two Creeks Solar (Manitowoc & Kewaunee Counties), Point Beach Solar (Manitowoc County), and now Badger State Solar (Jefferson County) received PSC approvals between April 2019 and January 2020.

  • Total of 699 megawatts of solar power production
  • Expected to produce enough power for about 178,000 average Wisconsin homes’ annual energy consumption
  • This amount of electricity produced would be about 2.0% of Wisconsin’s total 2018 electricity sales
  • These four projects will be located on approximately 5,300 acres of land, about 0.05% of Wisconsin’s farmland. In total Wisconsin has approximately 34,700,000 acres of land.
  • The hosting local governments (townships and counties) will receive $2,796,000 annually once these four projects are operational.
RENEW Wisconsin at the 30th Anniversary MREA Energy Fair

RENEW Wisconsin at the 30th Anniversary MREA Energy Fair

Last weekend, the MREA Energy Fair brought people together to learn about clean energy and sustainability, connect with others, and take action towards a sustainable future. The Fair featured workshops, exhibitors, live music, inspiring keynote speakers, family fun, great local food, and more. The Energy Fair is the longest-running event of its kind in the nation and RENEW Wisconsin was excited to be a part of it!

RENEW staff presented some compelling workshops and you can download slides from their presentations below.

Clean Energy Communications

Jodi Jean Amble, RENEW’s Communications Director, presented a workshop on clean energy communications. She discussed 6 tenets of creating effective communications messages, shared insights from clean energy communications polling,  and showcased some of RENEW’s recent campaigns.

Community-Led Clean Energy Action

Michael Vickerman, RENEW’s Policy Director, presented a workshop focused on communities across Wisconsin that are taking action to advance renewable energy in meaningful ways. Michael’s presentation surveys the specific action steps taken by individual municipalities to procure new supplies of solar energy and integrate carbon reduction goals into their own operations, including local transit options.  

Solar Farms – Economic and Agricultural Benefits

Heather Allen, RENEW’s Program Director, presented a workshop on solar farms featuring Bob Bishop, a local farmer from Iowa County renting his land out for the 300 Megawatt Badger Hollow Solar Farm. They talked about the economic, environmental and agricultural benefits of solar farms for rural communities. This workshop explored how to address frequently asked questions including those related to land use, food production, visual changes, and community values.

Solar for Good – Helping Wisconsin Nonprofits

Sam Dunaiski, RENEW’s Program Manager, presented information on the Solar for Good program including how the program got started and how it assists nonprofits in going solar. The workshop also featured a panel of nonprofits and solar installers that participated in the program. Panelists were Joe Lenarz (Pleasant Ridge Waldorf School), Kelsey Parry (Heckrodt Wetland Preserve), Angie Kochanski (Arch Electric), and Doug Stingle (North Wind Renewable Energy).

Electric Vehicle Toolkit

Jane McCurry, RENEW’s Program Manager focusing on electric vehicles, presented a workshop for people interested in seeing EV adoption advance in the Midwest. The discussion included charging infrastructure, influencing policy, the benefits of driving electric, and why EVs are good for the community, state, and country.

Richland County Unanimously Approves Nearly 50 MW Solar Farm!

Richland County Unanimously Approves Nearly 50 MW Solar Farm!

On Wednesday, April 10, the Richland County Zoning and Land Information Committee unanimously voted to usher in a brand new, nearly 50 megawatt solar farm!

Located two miles north of the Wisconsin River on agricultural lands owned by three local families, the Richland County Solar Farm will sit on roughly 500 acres. With a capacity of 49.9 megawatts (MW), the project is expected to produce enough electricity to offset the consumption from more than 13,000 average Wisconsin homes.

This project’s approval kicked off a momentous week for solar energy in Wisconsin when, the very next day, the Public Service Commission of Wisconsin approved two additional solar farm projects totaling 450 megawatts. You can read about Badger Hollow and the Two Creeks solar farm approvals here.

Wisconsin’s current fleet of solar farms range from one to five MW in size.  After the Richland County vote and the subsequent decisions at the PSC, it is  clear that large-scale projects are coming to Wisconsin. Scaling up to a renewable energy economy will require investments in utility-scale wind and solar projects like the Richland County Solar Farm.

This is the first solar project of this size to be approved at the county level. Richland officials took their time to carefully review the project proposal. The developer, Savion Energy (formerly Tradewind Energy), held two community meetings in September and November in the Village of Lone Rock. The County Zoning and Land Information Committee also heard from the public at two meetings in November 2018 and the most recent meeting in April 2019.

At these meetings, residents from Richland County brought up the need for local jobs and the economic investment the farm would bring, the need for clean energy, their concerns about climate change, as well as concerns for future generations. Minutes before the final vote, local resident Bob Simpson expressed support for the project by highlighting his worries for his grandchildren and that at some point “we are going to run out of gas.” But there were other residents who expressed concern about potential issues related to glare, aesthetics and the use of agricultural land for solar.

Bearing in mind the concerns raised in the public meetings, the final conditions for the Richland County Solar Farm Conditional Use Permit project include the following developer obligations:

  • Create a vegetative barrier between project lots and adjacent residences within 1000 feet of the project fence.
  • Provide screening on State Route 130 (which runs through the project site) within 1000 feet of the project fence.
  • Provide a detailed site plan including access and driveway permits.
  • Provide a decommissioning plan and financial security for decommissioning.

Immediately after the meeting, I caught up with Marc Couey, Richland County Supervisor and member of the Zoning and Land Information Committee. I asked him about the Richland County Solar Farm and he said, “We are going to run out of power without using alternative energies. It’s the right thing to do.”  I couldn’t agree more!