For decades, we’ve seen solar coming. No more; it’s here.
Whether or not you’re an advocate for expanded use of and research into renewable energy, you can’t deny the headlines.
Solar projects, increasingly viewed as economically feasible, are making news in Wisconsin from Ashland to Madison and at all points east to west.
Last week, plans were announced for an expanded solar farm at the Dane County Regional Airport. That project, a joint effort by the county and Madison Gas and Electric, is expected to generate enough energy to power about one-quarter of the county’s buildings.
Additionally, in August, the ribbon was cut on a solar array at the Dane County Jobs Center on Madison’s north side, joining other county facilities including the Henry Vilas Zoo now powered by solar.
Madison, the largest of Dane County’s municipalities, is also exploring how to expand its solar use to power public buildings. And it has a program called MadiSUN that its residents and businesses can tap into to learn more about solar and to participate in a tax incentive and financing program to help purchase and install solar equipment.
Other area communities, too, are pursuing solar installations, including out here in rural eastern Dane County.
For the past year in Deerfield, a mix of public and private entities controlled all or in part by Cal and Laurie Couillard have worked with the village and school district to install solar arrays on the roof of the police station and high school and at the wastewater treatment plant. There are plans, as well, to install solar arrays at the Liberty Commons office and retail condominiums on Liberty Street, which the Couillards now own the majority of.
And it’s not just public initiatives and public-private partnerships.
Across the state, private firms like Organic Valley, an organic food producer in southwestern Wisconsin, are taking things into their own hands. Organic Valley recently announced it is now generating all of its energy from renewable sources like solar.
Meanwhile, companies that specialize in installing small to very large solar projects are increasingly popping up. A quick internet search shows more than a dozen such companies are now based in the Dane County area, including the Couillards’ Deerfield-based Speed Solar. And that search result didn’t likely include everyone.
Some companies that are now players in our regional market are very large.
Invenergy, headquartered in Chicago, now has offices around the world including in Japan and Poland. Its 650-acre Badger Hollow Solar Farm in Iowa County is set to go into operation in 2020 as the largest solar farm in the Midwest.
“While others talked, we began to build,” Invenergy says on its website. “We develop, own and operate large-scale renewable and other clean energy generation and storage facilities worldwide.”
Solar hasn’t been uncontroversial in Wisconsin, with some energy companies questioning whether private solar companies should be regulated as utilities and threatening a surcharge to hook solar projects up to the grid.
That kind of debate is to be expected in a time of change and will settle out.
But the era in which solar was just an idea is behind us. Now, the challenge is to move it forward in the way that best benefits us all.