An energy company seeking land in the town of Darien for a possible 250-megawatt solar farm also is targeting landowners in the town of Bradford, a project consultant said Monday.
Neil Palmer of Invenergy, the Chicago company negotiating land agreements in Rock and Walworth counties, said the company wants 1,400 to 1,700 acres that potentially could house a massive, interconnected array of solar panels.
He said the company has signed lease agreements with landowners in each county.
The project would resemble one the company has proposed in Iowa County. That project, which is currently under consideration by the state Public Service Commission, would produce 300 megawatts of electricity—enough to power more than 70,000 homes, the Wisconsin State Journal reported.
Residents who oppose that project worry about valuable farmland becoming unusable for years and fear that the 1.2 million solar panels would hurt the area’s scenic beauty and create loud noises, the State Journal reported.
Like the Iowa County proposal, Palmer said the land in Rock and Walworth counties would not be contiguous but rather scattered across various parcels. Some land might be acquired in neighboring municipalities, such as the village of Darien, he said.
About 1,700 acres are needed for the local project, which would generate up to 250 megawatts of solar energy, Palmer said. However, he said the company must secure 25 percent more land than necessary to apply for permits with the commission.
Palmer spoke Monday at the Walworth County Board’s Land Conservation Committee meeting, where members discussed a letter from a resident who questioned the company’s land negotiations.
Judy Gause, whose family owns land in the town of Darien, wrote that the land under consideration is part of the fertile Rock Prairie and is in the Farmland Preservation Program. She worried about installing solar panels in the area and asked if the company could take a different approach to solar energy.
More than 25 people attended Monday’s meeting, with some voicing concerns about the proposed solar farm during the public comment period.
Many said they feared property values near the arrays would decrease and that the quality of the farmland would diminish.
After the meeting, Palmer said the land would be restored after the 25-year lease agreements expire. Some leases could be renewed for a second 25-year term, he said.
Palmer pointed to the company’s ground-cover strategy in Iowa County, which includes a two-phase vegetation planting program that Invenergy would oversee. The company would have to remove everything and return the farmland to “the same or better agricultural condition” than it was previously, Palmer said.
If the project is approved, Palmer said the Public Service Commission would oversee the land’s restoration. He said the commission would create a fund and put money aside to restore the land in case the company goes bankrupt or is sold.
However, Palmer said the company has not yet acquired enough property to green-light the proposal.
He said the solar panels would be interconnected underground and could plug into a substation at the Rock and Walworth county line.
The company would try to secure easements to build the underground pipes on properties that do not have arrays, Palmer said.
Installing the panels would take about 18 months, Palmer said. The company tentatively estimates the arrays could be up and running by 2022, he said.
Michael Cotter, director of the county’s land use and resource management department, told the committee the county will not have regulatory or zoning authority over the project because the panels would produce more than 99 megawatts of electricity.
Cotter suggested Invenergy host an open house to address landowners’ concerns.