01STOCK_SOLARPANELS

TOWNS OF DARIEN/BRADFORD

Three electric utilities have joined to buy a big solar array that is planned to be built in Walworth and Rock counties starting this fall.

We Energies and Wisconsin Public Service Corp. are asking for state approval to buy 90% of the project. Madison Gas & Electric would get the remaining 10% if the state Public Service Commission approves the sale.

At 250 megawatts, the project would be one of the highest-producing solar arrays in the state. That’s enough energy to power about 75,000 homes per year, said Beth Conley, spokeswoman for project developer Invenergy.

Chicago-based Invenergy has been developing the project, which the Public Service Commission has approved. The commission is now considering whether to approve the sale to the power companies.

Work is scheduled to start in late fall with more than 400 workers employed during peak construction, Conley said. Four permanent, full-time workers would run the solar farm.

The array would start producing electricity by Dec. 31, 2023, according to the sale proposal.

About 25 landowners are involved in the project, leasing land for 50 years, Conley said.

The buyers plan to acquire and build the project for about $446 million, according to their application with the Public Service Commission.

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Invenergy has options to lease 4,000 acres. Of that, 2,045 acres—about 3.2 square miles—are designated for the project.

Exactly which acres will be used has not been determined, Conley said.

Statutes require applicants to designate at least 25% additional land for alternative sites within the project boundary. Any leases that end up not being used either would be kept for future potential projects or be terminated if they do not host solar facilities, Conley said.

Fields of solar panels, connected by underground cables, are planned to extend from the outskirts of Delavan across the town of Darien and into eastern Rock County.

The 600,000 to 850,000 photovoltaic panels are crystalline silicon enclosed in antireflective glass. They would stand in north-south rows, converting sunshine into electricity. Electric motors would tilt the panels throughout daylight hours, tracking the sun’s progress across the sky, project documents indicate.

Energy would be stored in an on-site battery facility, which would fill gaps in production when the sun is not shining.

This project could be “re-powered” after the equipment wears out, the sale document says.

The two major purchasers say they expect the array would save their customers nearly $1 billion over 20 years, based on an undisclosed rate analysis.

The state’s shared-revenue formula for utilities means a $1 million annual payment per year, with Walworth and Rock counties receiving 58% of the total and the towns of Darien and Bradford 42%, based on the proportion of megawatts built in each county and town.

The proposal indicates Invenergy would operate the array for the power companies.

Invenergy says it is “committed to developing positive relationships with communities where projects are located by hiring approximately 70% of (operations and maintenance) personnel locally” and contributing volunteer time and donating money to local organizations and events.

The development is part of a trend in Wisconsin and across the country as utilities abandon old fossil-fuel burning plants in an effort to reduce their carbon footprints. Steep reductions in the cost of solar panels and federal government incentives make such projects competitive with fossil fuel plants, according to the application.

“Though energy is currently available in the market at relatively low cost, the project will provide a valuable hedge against the potential for higher energy costs in the future, particularly during the peak summer hours, when Darien is expected to be generating energy at or near their stated nameplate capacity,” according to the sale proposal.

The Darien solar area is described as rolling hills with “relatively flat” agricultural and developed areas, according to Invenergy’s proposal to the commission.

The three power companies have also joined to buy two other Invenergy solar arrays, the 300-megawatt facility known as Badger Hollow in Iowa County and a 250-megawatt facility in the town of Paris in Kenosha County, according to the sale proposal.

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