Wisconsin regulators approve solar project despite local land use concerns

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Wisconsin regulators approved construction for one of the largest planned solar installations in the state, the 150 MW Onion River solar project, set to be located in Sheboygan County. Approval came despite vocal protests from nearby residents.

The project is set to be constructed in Holland, just south of Green Bay, and is one of six plants planned for construction by Alliant Energy as part of its plan to replace coal-fired plants with renewable energy.

Residents voiced concerns over the use of crop land, potential loss of property values, and  worries over the process by which developers secured leases before seeking regulatory approval.

The Onion River solar project was initially approved by regulators on April 22, along with the 200 MW Grant County Solar project; the 150 MW Wood County Solar project; the 75 MW Crawfish River Solar project in Jefferson County; the 50 MW North Rock Solar project in Rock County; and the 50 MW Richland County Solar project.The estimated total cost of the solar projects is $887 million. Regulators said that Alliant’s customers will see savings of around $127 million through the retirement of higher-cost coal-fired generation. Onion River is expected to generate $600,000 a year in local government revenue over the project’s 30-year lifespan.

The six projects are the first phase in Alliant’s plans to add nearly 1,100 MW of solar capacity by 2024, which also includes an application, filed last month, to acquire an additional six solar farms for about $515 million. Alliant plans to retire its two remaining coal plants by 2025, as it seeks to cut its carbon emissions in half by 2030. The company has said that replacing coal plants with up to 1,000 MW of solar capacity can avoid up to $6.5 billion in additional costs over the next 35 years.

Alliant’s renewable plans mark a shift in the state’s generation philosophy, as only 442 MW of solar have been installed in Wisconsin thus far. In addition to Alliant, We Energies and Wisconsin Public Service have filed plans with the Public Service Commission of Wisconsin for the Darien Solar Energy Center, a 325 MW solar+storage project to be built in Rock and Walworth counties in the southeast part of the state.

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