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.
As part of its tenth annual Renewable Energy Summit, RENEW Wisconsin will recognize individuals and organizations who have made significant and lasting advances in renewable energy development here in Wisconsin.
Titled “Building the Clean Energy Mosaic,” this year’s Summit will be hosted virtually over three days from Tuesday, January 12th through Thursday, January 14th, 2021. The theme of this year’s event, “Building the Clean Energy Mosaic,” will highlight the diversity of technologies, people, and scale needed to shape our clean energy future.
Roster of 2020 awardees
Renewable Energy Business of the Year
Northwind Solar Cooperative, Amherst
Renewable Energy Catalysts of the Year:
Sid Sczygelski & Ali Wolf, Aspirus Health, Wausau
Charles Hua, Madison
Renewable Energy Champion of the Year
Oregon School District
Renewable Energy Pioneer of the Year
Renewable Energy Project of the Year
Two Creeks Solar Park, Manitowoc County
NextEra Energy Resources (developer)
Wisconsin Public Service Corp. (joint owner)
Madison Gas and Electric (joint owner)
Renewable Energy Business of the Year
NorthwindSolar Cooperative has been a fixture in Central Wisconsin’s renewable energy marketplace since 2007, operating principally in the residential and small commercial segments. Throughout its history, Northwind has been acutely conscious of the value of community ties. Northwind’s PV systems are a common sight in Amherst. The company has operated the Grow Solar – Central Wisconsin group purchase program for four straight years, designing and installing more than a megawatt of solar capacity for 168 residential customers. After the company reorganized itself as a worker-owned cooperative structure, Northwind committed to building a new headquarters building in Amherst Business Park that showcases its talents and services. With 44 kW of PV capacity and multiple battery configurations, Northwind’s new headquarters building invites prospective customers to pursue solar + storage as the energy package of the future.
Renewable Energy Catalysts of the Year
Aspirus Health is a health care organization serving much of central and northern Wisconsin and Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, with 10 hospitals, 50+ clinics, labs and other service-providing facilities within its system. In 2018 Aspirus launched a systemwide initiative to identify and implement strategies for slashing its energy overhead and scaling back its carbon footprint. Sid Sczygelski, chief financial officer of Aspirus, chairs this initiative, while Sustainability Director Ali Wolf directs and coordinates this ambitious undertaking. Their goal is to reduce carbon emissions systemwide 80% by 2030. Going into 2021, Sczygelski, Wolf and the Aspirus sustainability team have made great progress to date. Aspirus has integrated into its buildings more than 900 kilowatts of solar PV on its rooftops, saving more than $600,000/year in energy expenses. In 2021, Aspirus plans to double its use of solar energy systemwide and complete construction on its most energy-efficient facility yet, a clinic in Wausau.
In 2017, students and staff at Madison West High School started work on a campaign to power their school with a rooftop solar PV system. That year, Charles Hua, then a junior, took the helm of West Green Club and launched a fundraising and outreach campaign that blossomed into one of the largest youth-led sustainability efforts in Wisconsin. From June 2017 through 2019, the West Green Club raised nearly $90,000 from staff, students, parents and local foundations, accounting for nearly 50% of the cost of their 128 kW solar PV system. Installed last summer by Westphal Electric, Madison West’s solar system is now the largest array supplying electricity to a Madison Metropolitan School District building. The example set by Hua and West Green Club helped inspire the school district to adopt a 100% renewable goal for all of its facilities. Hua is now a junior at Harvard University.
Renewable Energy Champion of the Year
Long a leader in pursuing solar power for its operations, Oregon School District took advantage of an opportunity in 2018 to push the envelope on sustainability at its new Forest Edge Elementary School in Fitchburg. Collaborating with HGA’s Madison office, an architectural and engineering design firm, the school district financed and saw to completion the first net zero energy public school in Wisconsin. Equipped with a 646 kW rooftop solar array, a ground-source heat pump system and onsite battery storage, Forest Edge is an all-electric building. There is no gas connection to the school. Completed in the fall of 2020, Forest Edge represents a quantum leap in capturing, controlling and maximizing the economic value of sunshine and ground temperatures to heat, cool and power a building where many people congregate.
Renewable Energy Pioneer of the Year
Impatient with federal and state government inaction on climate change, Dane County decided to roll up it sleeves and get to work, starting in 2017 with the creation of the Office of Climate Change and Energy. The County’s approach to reducing fossil fuel use has been aggressive and remarkably systematic for a local government. A number of these actions bore fruit in 2020. These include:
Throwing the switch on a biogas processing plant in April that converts gas from landfill waste and cow manure into a pipeline-grade renewable fuel;
Releasing a Climate Action Plan, also in April, containing recommendations for reducing greenhouse gas emissions countywide 45% by 2030 and achieving net zero emissions by 2050;
Partnering with Madison Gas and Electric to host a 9-megawatt solar array on airport property and purchase the output from that project, under a long-term contract; and
Purchasing property in the Town of Cottage Grove to host a larger solar array that will enable the County to offset all of its electricity usage with zero-emission power.
Renewable Energy Project of the Year
Developed by Florida-based NextEra Energy Resources in Manitowoc County, the 150-megawatt Two Creeks Solar Park was energized last November. It is now the largest power plant in the state of Wisconsin that is fueled by the sun. Jointly owned by Wisconsin Public Service and Madison Gas and Electric, Two Creeks effectively doubled solar generation capacity in Wisconsin, and its output will equal the electrical consumption of 33,000 residential households. Two Creeks was the first solar power plant to receive approval from the Public Service Commission, and the first to be approved as a utility-owned asset. Seeing Two Creeks to completion opens the door to a new chapter in electric power, one highlighted by the emergence of solar power as the cleanest, more affordable and least risky supply option available to Wisconsin electric providers.
This year’s summit program will also draw attention to other milestones and notable achievements in 2020, including the following:
The Public Service Commission approved two large solar farms—Badger State Solar and Paris Solar—that will add 349 MW of solar power to Wisconsin’s electric generation portfolio;
Madison Gas and Electric completed two smaller solar farms in its service territory, with a combined capacity of 14 MW, to supply several customers under contract and expand its shared solar program;
Grants from RENEW’s Solar for Good program resulted in 27 new solar installations across the state totaling 1,265 kW of operating capacity.
Two Eau Claire high schools—Memorial and North—celebrated the completion of their 126 kW solar arrays supported by Solar on Schools, a joint venture between the Couillard Solar Foundation and the Midwest Renewable Energy Association.
Eagle Point Solar installed 400 kW(AC) of PV capacity, serving four City of La Crosse-owned buildings.
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.
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.
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 (firstname.lastname@example.org)
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
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.