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JEFFERSON — The Wisconsin Public Service Commission on Thursday approved five interrelated cases advocates say are likely to lead to a five-fold expansion of solar energy in Wisconsin and pave the way for at least one of two large Jefferson County solar projects.

The PSC this week 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.

It also approved 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.

The PSC then 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-megawatt share of the Badger Hollow Solar Farm.

By RENEW Wisconsin’s estimates, the state of Wisconsin closed 2018 with about 103 megawatts of solar power, with about 80 percent 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 percent 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 his organization is happy to see the Public Service Commission approve these solar projects.

“We find that it is cost-effective for two of our major utilities to own and operate these plants,” Huebner said.

“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, RENEW Wisconsin stated.

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.

Ranger Power is proposing that facility, which is planned for siting in the towns of Oakland and Jefferson.

Badger State Solar will utilize about 1,000 acres of noncontiguous land located within a larger, 5,000-acre area in the two townships. The property is offered by landowners interested in participating in the project, which will feature rows of solar panels that track the sun throughout the day, with 16 to 20 feet between each row.

The panels were described by Ranger representatives at a recent meeting in Jefferson as “being about as tall as full-grown corn” and would have their point of interconnection with the electric transmission system west of the city of Jefferson on the northwest corner of the intersection of U.S. Highway 18 and State Highway 89.

Ranger Power is planning to develop, own and operate the project, and in mid-March, Dairyland Power Cooperative announced it would like to purchase electricity from the facility.

The project will produce enough electricity to provide the equivalent annual needs of about 20,000 homes, according to Dairyland.

If all approvals are granted in local and state permitting processes, construction would begin in 2020 and operation would commence in 2022.

According to Badger State, the Jefferson County project is a new private investment in Jefferson County and will be a major source of fresh revenue through the Wisconsin Shared Revenue Program.

Earnings generated are estimated at $29.5 million for Wisconsin and $2.6 million for Jefferson County during construction, with long-term annual earnings projected at $683,000 for the state and $446,000 for the county. The investment would be more than $100 million.

Ranger Power President Paul Harris said he is looking to continue to work with the Jefferson County community throughout the project.

This week, the Richland County Board of Zoning gave final, and unanimous, approval to the 49.9 megawatt Richland County Solar Project.

In 2017, WPPI Energy announced it would purchase power from a 100-megawatt solar project near the Point Beach Nuclear Station.

Taken together, these five new solar projects addressed Thursday by the PSC account for approximately 749 megawatts of new solar power. If all are approved and built, they would supply 2.1 percent of Wisconsin’s annual electricity needs and produce enough power to equal the annual usage of about 185,000 homes in Wisconsin.

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