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.
Today at their headquarters in La Crosse, Dairyland Power Cooperative announced that it will be purchasing electricity from a major new Wisconsin-based solar energy facility being developed by Ranger Power.
The partnership involves a 149 megawatt solar power facility called Badger State Solar which is planned to be located in Jefferson County, Wisconsin. Ranger Power is planning to develop, own, and operate the project. Dairyland Power Cooperative will purchase all the electricity generated from the project through a long-term power purchase agreement.
The project will produce enough electricity to provide the equivalent annual needs of about 20,000 homes. If all approvals are granted from local and state permitting processes, construction would begin in 2020 and operation would commence in 2022.
RENEW Wisconsin’s Executive Director Tyler Huebner said, “Today’s announcement shows that solar power has become a cost-effective resource for Wisconsin’s major power providers such as Dairyland Power. By committing to this solar project which will be built right here in Wisconsin, Dairyland will meet its goals of a safe, reliable, affordable, and increasingly sustainable and diversified energy supply. We congratulate Dairyland Power Cooperative and Ranger Power on this historic announcement!”
By RENEW Wisconsin’s count, the state had about 103 megawatts of solar at year-end 2018, with Dairyland Power Cooperative responsible for about 20 megawatts, already placing it as the leader in the state for the amount of solar installed to-date. This project, along with a number of additional major solar projects, will dramatically increase the amount of solar energy produced in Wisconsin in the next five years.
More information about the project is included in the links below.
Dairyland Power Press Release
Badger State Solar Project Fact Sheet
Badger State Solar Project Economic Impact
Featured in image: Dairyland Power President and CEO Barb Nick and Ranger Power CEO Paul Harris
Owner: Madison Gas and Electric
Location: Howard County, Iowa
Status: Online as of February 2019
Approved by the Public Service Commission in November 2017, Saratoga Wind is a 33-turbine installation totaling 66 megawatts (MW). MGE broke ground on the project in early 2018. Now operational, Saratoga is expected to generate between 275 and 300 million kilowatt-hours of electricity annually. Click here to watch a short, time-lapse video of Saratoga’s the construction.
Western Wisconsin Solar Arrays
Owner: OneEnergy Renewables
Locations in Wisconsin: Arcadia, Argyle, Cashton, Cumberland, Elroy, Fennimore, and New Lisbon
Total Capacity: 31 MWDC, 26 MW
Status: Under construction. All should be operating by June 2019.
OneEnergy is breaking ground this week on 10 solar arrays in the Upper Midwest that will supply electricity directly to municipal electric utilities in western Wisconsin and Minnesota. Seven of these installations will be located in Wisconsin. The financing for these projects is coming from multiple sources, among them Organic Valley, the City of Madison, and project owner BluEarth Renewables. In exchange for their contributions to the projects’ financing, Organic Valley and the City of Madison will acquire all the renewable energy attributes from the specific installations they are supporting. When the projects begin generating power this summer, the Arcadia array, sized at 7.45 MWdc (5 MWac), will become the largest solar array in the state of Wisconsin. Plymouth-based Arch Electric will construct several of the arrays.
Just before the holidays, We Energies received approval from the Public Service Commission to begin two new renewable energy pilot programs.
The first is called the Dedicated Renewable Energy Resource program and would allow commercial, industrial, and local government customers to access large-scale renewable energy projects. The projects would allow larger customers to meet their sustainability and renewable energy goals, while potentially saving money, and We Energies could supply up to 150 megawatts of existing customer load with renewable energy through this program. The program would also allow an unlimited amount of new load to be served with renewable energy through this program.
The second program, called Solar Now, would enable We Energies to lease roof or ground space from customers. We Energies would own the solar projects, and pay lease payments to the host customers. The program could build up to 35 megawatts of solar. RENEW Members had various opinions about this program, which were reflected in our comments filed with the PSC.
We will keep you apprised as these programs roll out.