Company eyes Walworth County sites for solar power arrays

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Gazette staff
Saturday, November 11, 2017

A Chicago company is negotiating with Walworth County landowners about installing two solar panel arrays that each would generate 200 megawatts of electricity.

One of the arrays would be built in the town of Walworth and town of Sharon, according to a letter sent to landowners.

The other would be built west of the village of Darien along Interstate 43, said Neil Palmer, Invenergy project consultant.

Each of the arrays would require about 1,400 acres and would be the biggest ever built in Wisconsin, Palmer said.

The array west of Walworth would connect to an electrical substation south of Brick Church Road and west of Kikkoman Foods.

The Darien array would connect to a substation west of the village of Darien, Palmer said.

Invenergy also is pursuing solar array projects in Kenosha and Iowa counties, he said.

If the projects go smoothly, they could begin producing electricity by late 2020, Palmer said.

An Oct. 31 article on Inc.com describes Invenergy as “the largest independent renewable energy provider in North America.” A letter from the company to landowners in Walworth County lists an Invenergy address in Chicago.

The Invenergy website indicates the company has more than 100 projects in development or operation in the United States, Canada, Europe, Japan and Latin America and is “leveraging innovative design and next-generation technology to create a new paradigm for energy production.”

Palmer said the Walworth County sites were chosen because of their proximity to electrical substations and high-voltage transmission lines.

“As close to the substation as you can get is where you want to be,” he said.

He said they look for flat land with a southern exposure and few roads and few bodies of water.

“That usually leads to crop or pasture-type land,” Palmer said.

Landowners would lease their land for 25 years.

“We’ve found interest,” Palmer said. “Nobody has beat our door down and said, ‘Take our signed contract,’ but it was enough for us to hold a meeting.”

Solar leases allow farmers to diversify their income, he said.

“Corn prices are down. Bean prices are down. It is a very tough life. This gives them a diversification of their revenue,” he said.

The solar projects would require approval primarily from the state Public Service Commission and the state Department of Natural Resources, Palmer said. At the county level, Invenergy would seek conditional-use permits in agricultural zoning.

“I’m very comfortable that we’ll be successful with that,” he said.

Palmer estimated that if permit applications are submitted to the state in the first quarter of 2018, the arrays could be generating electricity by late 2020.

Palmer said Invenergy is in negotiations with Wisconsin utilities that would buy the electricity. He said Wisconsin utilities need generation, are looking to modernize their fleets and solar is now economical in Wisconsin. Some estimate that the cost of solar electric generation has dropped 90 percent in five years, he said.

Newley Schooler, a NexGen Right of Way Services land agent meeting with landowners about the projects, said he and others have been talking to landowners for “two to three months.” Some landowners are interested, and some are not.

“We’re in the initial stages here, yet. We’re trying to get a few more people involved,” Schooler said.

Invenergy is proposing to lease, not buy, land for the solar arrays. Landowners would receive payments per acre on a yearly basis, Schooler said.

The project would not involve the use of any eminent domain, Schooler said.

“It’s truly up to the community, the landowner, if they want to diversity their income,” he said. “Not everybody will participate. That’s just the fact of the matter.”

Invenergy has retained ownership of some projects it has built. Other projects have been sold to other companies, Schooler said.

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