“Renewable energy is simple. It’s ancient technology. What was the first thing that came to this landscape 150 years ago? Wind mills to pump water. They were all over the place. They were needed to get water. These [wind turbines] are needed to run all of our electricity. It is the same thing, just a bigger scale.”
Tim McComish in many ways is the epitome of a Wisconsin farmer. He’s friendly, smart, and practical. His farm sits on 2000 acres in Lafayette County in the Township of Seymour, where he is also the Town Board Chairman. He has 250 dairy cows, grows crops, and now hosts a wind turbine that is part of the Quilt Block Wind Farm.
His great, great grandfather purchased the land in 1848. Now, Tim, his sons, and his brother are farming the land. They are also shepherding in the next generation of farmers, his grandkids. The McComish Family Farm is a seven generation operation.
Given the McComish history with the land and his leadership in the town, hosting the Quilt Block Wind Farm was not a decision that Tim took lightly.
“I was concerned that they [wind turbines] would be overwhelming. But I thought it was a neat thing and the economy was kind of poor then. And then meanwhile, grain prices went up and so people were not that concerned about it. Now things are back to how they were and believe me, there are farmers out here that these turbines are helping. If they have several on their property, it is making a big difference. And being on the town board, it is great what it is doing for the township.”
Tim’s support of renewable energy goes hand in hand with his stewardship to the land and his investment in energy efficiency on the farm.
“You have to do everything you can do to make the farm efficient. Most farmers are making those smart choices. With the energy rebates for the LED lights, it’s a no brainer. Everything we do around here is a cost savings.”
The McComish Farm efficiency measures even extend to water. Water is used to cool the milk initially which reduces the amount of Freon needed later. This same water exits the milking parlor through an underground tank and is reused to water the cows in the barn.
“These energy efficiency measures have all happened in the last 10 to 12 years. We doubled in herd size and our electric bill stayed the same. Just efficiencies. All these LED lights, even the vacuum pump.”
The McComish Farm no-tills just about everything, including corn and beans. This keeps all the carbon in the ground. The soil is tested so they know what the NPK (nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium) is. They can knife in manure and it saves on fertilizer cost for the next year.
The McComish cows are beautiful. You can follow them in pictures on his daughter in law’s Instagram feed: cows_kids_and_cheese. The calves (mostly Holstein) are fed three times a day and when they are three months old, they are hauled to a neighboring farm where they are raised until they are about a year old, when they are brought back to breed. They calf about nine months later.
In the higher production barn the cows are all at their peak. The feed, silage, and ground corn are all mixed. The feed is tested in a lab so they are sure the cows have every nutrient they need. They grow everything except some of the protein sources they buy. They buy distillers grain which comes from ethanol plants. Everything is farm grown.
The cows have free stalls and can move and eat whenever they want. They have fresh water and sand is brought in every week because it is a forgiving bedding for the cows. In the summer, there are sprinklers to cool the cows off.
As with most farms, the manure from the cattle goes back into the field as fertilizer. There is a big lagoon that holds 2 million gallons of manure that gets pumped through a big drag line to the fields two or three miles away. “It is all environmentally friendly.”
Tim points to a dumpster overflowing with plastic.
“See that ugly dumpster? That is supposed to be emptied but because of the trouble we are having with China and the trade recycling, they are not picking up our plastic. It has been two or three months since they have taken it. That plastic has always been recycled. I am recycling nut and I want everything to be used up.“
While Tim only hosts one turbine, his property is right in the middle of the 49-turbine Quilt Block Wind Farm covering a 6 square miles radius. The turbines have become a part of his rural landscape.
“I’d say I only see the flicker half the time, and it depends where you are. Most people, if the sun is coming in that hard they’ll shut their shades and won’t see the flicker then. It is really not something to be concerned about. The planes that put fungicide on the crops just fly right around them. And as far as dead birds, I guarantee you’ll count more dead birds a mile down the road than under the turbines. It’s just a farce. Anyone who is concerned about noise, here we are carrying a conversation.”
“What’s the difference between power lines, wind turbines and grain bins and silos. I mean if you live in the city you have skyscrapers. People think they are beautiful. And guess what, I think these are beautiful. These are my skyscrapers.”
Across America, businesses are increasingly investing in clean, renewable energy. They know that the costs for wind and solar have plummeted, allowing the companies to take advantage of the low-cost electricity from renewables. In addition, customers, employees, and investors are increasingly looking to these businesses to make bigger commitments to improving their impacts on the world around us.
Over the past year, Chris Deisinger has acted as a consultant to RENEW Wisconsin to gather up all these corporate commitments to renewable energy, and do a deep dive into which of these national and multi-national firms have Wisconsin operations.
Today, we’re very excited to show you which of these national leaders have Wisconsin operations – and it’s a great list! These are companies who, over the coming years, will be searching for options to access renewable energy to cover the needs of their Wisconsin operations.
Corporations with Renewable Commitments & Wisconsin Operations
A timely example of renewable energy commitments in Wisconsin is Ashley Furniture, headquartered in Arcadia, Wisconsin. On Wednesday, Ashley announced a $29 million investment in renewable energy. The investment will be used to offset 35% of their energy use by installing solar panels at 10 of their largest facilities. Ashley expects to save at least $5 million in the first year.
Dozens of other companies in Wisconsin have also made commitments to renewable energy, including:
Utility Programs to Connect Commercial Customers with Renewable Energy
Wisconsin power companies are starting to put together programs to help companies like these, and other large customers, meet their renewable energy goals.
Two years ago, Madison Gas & Electric debuted a “Renewable Energy Rider” special service for its commercial customers, and just last month they announced they had the first two customers express interest.
Last fall, We Energies followed suit by proposing and gaining approval for a similar program that would enable their larger customers to sign up for access to dedicated renewable energy resources. We Energies was granted approval for their program in December 2018.
And, just a few weeks ago, Alliant Energy joined in, proposing a similar program again. Alliant’s program still requires approval from the Public Service Commission which oversees and regulates the utilities in Wisconsin.
A Brighter Future
Hopefully you caught Budweiser’s Super Bowl Commercial featuring their commitment to making every Budweiser with 100% wind energy. These are the types of success stories that can happen in Wisconsin too.
With dozens of corporations committing to renewable energy, and the utility programs to provide it, the future of renewables for Wisconsin is looking bright.
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!
Today at its Open Meeting, the Wisconsin Public Service Commission approved five interrelated cases that will lead to a five-fold expansion of solar energy in Wisconsin.
The PSC approved:
- The Badger Hollow Solar Farm project in Iowa County, totaling 300 megawatts. Badger Hollow could become the largest solar electric plant in the Midwest when completed. In addition, the PSC approved a “tie line” that will deliver Badger Hollow’s output to a nearby substation, where it will be injected into the existing southwest Wisconsin grid.
- The Two Creeks Solar Project in Manitowoc County, totaling 150 megawatts. As with Badger Hollow, the PSC also approved a “tie line” that will deliver Two Creeks’ output to a nearby substation.
- Finally, the PSC approved an application from two Wisconsin utilities, Wisconsin Public Service based in Green Bay and Madison Gas & Electric, to acquire a total of 300 megawatts of this new solar capacity. The utilities will acquire the entire Two Creeks Solar Farm and a 150 MW share of the Badger Hollow Solar Farm. Wisconsin Public Service will acquire a total of 200 MW and Madison Gas & Electric will acquire 100 MW.
By RENEW Wisconsin’s estimates, the state of Wisconsin closed 2018 with about 103 megawatts of solar power, about 80% of that residing on homes and buildings, directly serving the customers who bought the solar arrays.
When completed, the 450 megawatts of solar would produce about 1.3% of Wisconsin’s annual electricity consumption, and supply electricity equivalent to the usage of about 116,500 Wisconsin homes. Both projects should be operational by mid-2021.
RENEW Wisconsin’s Executive Director, Tyler Huebner, said, “We are very happy to see the Public Service Commission approve these solar projects and find that it is cost-effective for two of our major utilities to own and operate these plants. It is a landmark day for solar energy in Wisconsin. Solar energy is a smart choice to meet the electricity needs of our citizens, businesses, and organizations, and without a state mandate to do so. With solar energy, we will produce homegrown, healthy energy right here in Wisconsin for years to come, and provide substantial economic benefits to the landowners and local governments who will host these projects.”
Today’s approvals build momentum for large-scale solar as a resource for power suppliers and utilities in Wisconsin.
- Three weeks ago, Dairyland Power Cooperative announced a commitment to purchase electricity from a 149 megawatt solar facility called Badger State Solar that would be located in Jefferson County. That project is subject to PSC approval as well.
- Just yesterday, April 10, the Richland County Board of Zoning gave final, and unanimous, approval to the 49.9 megawatt Richland County Solar Project developed by Savion Energy to be located in the Town of Buena Vista.
- In 2017, WPPI Energy announced it would purchase power from a 100 megawatt solar project near the Point Beach Nuclear Station. That project also will seek PSC approval in 2019.
Taken together, these five new solar projects account for approximately 749 megawatts of new solar power. If all are approved and built, they would supply 2.1% of Wisconsin’s annual electricity needs, and produce enough power to equal the annual usage of about 185,000 homes in Wisconsin. Beyond these projects, at least 4,000 megawatts of additional large-scale solar projects are being explored and developed in Wisconsin. We encourage you to learn more about large-scale solar energy, including our long list of questions and answers, at www.renewwisconsin.org/solarfarms.
About RENEW Wisconsin
RENEW Wisconsin is a nonprofit organization which promotes renewable energy in Wisconsin. We work on policies and programs that support solar power, wind power, biogas, local hydropower, geothermal energy, and electric vehicles in Wisconsin. More information is available on RENEW’s website: www.renewwisconsin.org.