Wisconsin town sues utility regulator for approving 300 MW solar farm


Koshkonong Solar Energy Center is proposing a 300 MW solar facility and 165 MW Battery Energy Storage System (BESS) that would sit on approximately 4,600 acres of primarily agricultural land in the towns of Christiana and Deerfield in Dane County, Wisconsin. At 300 MW, the solar installation would be the largest in a state, which at the end of 2021, had 837 MW installed, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association.

The Town of Christiana is asking the courts to reverse the Public Service Commission’s (PSC) approval of installation, which would produce enough electricity to power about a third of the county’s homes. The town’s complaints include the arguments that the PSC wrongly approved a project that violates the state Constitution, did not have an adequate environmental review and was presented under false pretenses, among other deficiencies. In a petition filed in Dane County Circuit Court, the town alleges that the project would unreasonably interfere with orderly land use and development plans and would adversely affect public health, as well as amenities such as “views, historic sites, geological formations, the aesthetics of land and water and recreational use.”

Koshkonong Solar Energy Center is proposing the project. The company is an independent power producer and a wholly owned subsidiary of Invenergy, a Chicago-based power generation development and operations company. As such, the project did not need to be reviewed by the PSC, and it voted 2 to 0 in April to build the facility. Koshkonong Solar Energy Center has stated that it intends to own and operate the project or develop and sell it to a utility or independent power producer. Subsequently, an application was jointly filed by Wisconsin Electric Power Company, Wisconsin Public Service Corporation, and Madison Gas and Electric Company to purchase the project for a reported $649 million. Another of the town’s complaints is that the PSC should not have issued a for what it called a “merchant” wholesale plant, pointing to the fact that the company plans to sell it to regulated utilities.

The PUC says it followed the law. The order states that “The fact that a project may be acquired by a public utility at some point in the future does not transform the project into a non-merchant plant.”

While the project has been met with opposition from the town in addition to the school district and village of Cambridge, its supporters include Clean Wisconsin, the Sierra Club, Clean Wisconsin and Dane County sustainability groups. The proponents argue the project is needed to help in the move to clean energy, and the impacts of solar panels pale in comparison to the alternative. The PUC found the impacts were “unfortunate but a necessary result” of maintaining reliable electricity service with clean energy.

If approved, construction is scheduled to begin in the Spring of 2022 complete and in service by December of 2024. The Town of Christiana would receive more than $250,000 a year in utility aid revenue from the plant.

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