Plans for two 1,400-acre solar arrays in Walworth County have not been slowed by President Donald Trump’s recent decision to impose a 30 percent tariff on foreign-made solar equipment, a spokesman for the company working on the Walworth County projects said.
“We haven’t stopped any work toward any project,” said Neil Palmer, project consultant for Invenergy.
The 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. The other would be built west of the village of Darien along Interstate 43.
Palmer said it’s not clear yet what impact the tariff might eventually have.
Trump’s tariff has divided the solar industry and triggered rebukes from even Republican governors whose states have stakes in the industry.
Companies that sell solar power systems fear the panels and equipment they import will suddenly get more expensive, The Associated Press reported.
Invenergy has not yet bought equipment for any Wisconsin project, so the tariff has not been an issue, Palmer said.
“We continue to talk to landowners about interest. Fundamentally, what’s got to happen is we have to have enough landowners who are interested in leasing land for a solar site to say there is a project. We’ve moving along quite well,” Palmer said.
The “rule of thumb” for projects such as those considered for Walworth County is seven acres for each megawatt of generation. Using that formula, each solar array would be 1,400 acres, Palmer said.
Invenergy has been negotiating land leases with Walworth County landowners since early summer 2017, Palmer said. The company shifted its attention to Walworth County after landowners in the town of Bradford in Rock County declined to sign up.
“We just didn’t find any interest” in the town of Bradford, Palmer said.
In the Darien area, Invenergy has signed leases or has had “very positive negotiations” with the owners of about 1,000 acres, Palmer said.
Progress in signing landowners in the town of Walworth and town of Sharon is “not as far along,” he said.
Walworth County Board Supervisor Susan Pruessing wants the county’s planning and zoning committee to get more information about the impact of large-scale solar arrays.
Palmer said Invenergy intends to work closely with county officials.
“We will work with the county on whatever sort of permitting or review process they are comfortable with,” he said.
But because the solar arrays being considered each would produce more than 99 megawatts, preeminent regulatory authority lies with the state Public Service Commission and the state Department of Natural Resources, Palmer said.
“The point of that, when the legislation was prepared many years ago, was that utility generating facilities benefit the state, not just the given township or county,” Palmer said. “Nobody would have any electricity if you only allowed power plants in places where people wanted them or supported them.”
Shannon Haydin, deputy director of the Walworth County Land Use and Resource Management Department, said staff in her office has begun researching the regulatory issues around solar arrays since Pruessing asked the county to gather more information.
Haydin said they haven’t yet researched if the authority of state agencies would trump local rulings.
“We haven’t looked into it. It could be,” Haydin said.
County staff, she said, also is researching:
- If large-scale solar arrays should be regulated under the county’s solar ordinance, which was written to regulate backyard and rooftop solar panels, or if arrays should be regulated under ordinances covering energy-producing facilities.
- How a solar array blanketed across many parcels with many owners could be brought into compliance with the county’s setback ordinance, which requires structures be 50 feet from property lines. A solar company would not want its solar array to have 100-foot gaps along property lines.
- If placing solar arrays on land zoned for agriculture would jeopardize the county’s standing in the Farmland Preservation Program, which generates state income tax credits for landowners.
Haydin said staff from her office will present more information at the Feb. 15 meeting of the county zoning agency.