01STOCK_SOLARPANELS

TOWN OF WHITEWATER

A New York solar energy company is eyeing several hundred acres in the town of Whitewater for a possible solar farm.

Jeff Rauh, a project representative with Ranger Power, said the company is evaluating whether areas of the town would be suitable for a utility-scale solar development. Rauh said residents in the town have expressed interest in leasing land to the company for the project.

Rauh said the company would need 600 to 800 acres for the solar panels, which could be on land east of the city of Whitewater. The panels likely would produce fewer than 100 megawatts of electricity, Rauh said, so Walworth County would have regulatory authority over the project.

Another solar farm is being considered by a Chicago company in the towns of Darien and Bradford. The state Public Service Commission would have regulatory authority and issue permits for that project because it would produce at least 100 megawatts of electricity. That company has said the arrays near the town of Darien could produce up to 250 megawatts.

Rauh said the company’s initial conversations with landowners in the town of Whitewater began early last year. Company representatives participated in discussions about solar energy ordinance revisions with Walworth County officials last year.

The county’s ordinances previously required solar panels to be set back at least 50 feet from all property lines and that the equipment be removed within 90 days after it is no longer in use.

The county amended the ordinances so that the set back requirement may be waived if adjacent properties host the same solar arrays. The county also eliminated the 90-day removal requirement. A removal schedule will be determined during the conditional use application.

Andrew Hamilton, a representative with Ranger Power, spoke in support of the ordinance revisions at a county public hearing in May. He suggested the county reword the removal language because “the size of these utility scales can be very large, and it may take longer than 90 days.”

The Walworth County Zoning Agency unanimously approved the amendments June 21.

Rauh said the town of Whitewater is an appropriate location for a solar farm given its proximity to Milwaukee, Madison and Janesville. The arrays likely would be on noncontiguous parcels, and the company would seek to tie into an existing transmission line, possibly the Whitewater to Mukwonago line with the American Transmission Company.

It’s too early to determine a timeline for the project, Rauh said.

The company likely would lease land for at least 25 years, Rauh said. That’s similar to lease agreements for the project in the towns of Darien and Bradford, which are 25 years.

Rauh said the cost of solar power has dropped about 80 percent in the last eight years. That has made massive solar farms attractive and economical, he said, and utility companies are anxious to increase their solar energy production.

“This now makes sense in Wisconsin, whereas perhaps in previous time, it would not have made sense this far north,” Rauh said. “But now you’ve got efficiency of panels as well as cost of the facility that really makes a facility like this attractive in the state of Wisconsin.”

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