Preliminary planning is underway for a large solar farm in the Town of Vienna as a representative from the sustainable energy company, Invenergy, has been inquiring about leasing land from Vienna property owners.
The June Town of Vienna newsletter summarizes the discussion from the town’s May 13 plan commission meeting, noting “the three-year process begins with acquiring land rights, applying for a CUP application with Dane County and filing for permission with the Public Service Commission.”
According to Vienna Town Clerk Kathy Clark, the plan commission meeting drew a large crowd with mixed reactions to the proposed project, still very early in the planning stages.
“There was not a spare chair in the room,” Clark said.
Some were wary of the project as they were unhappy with the results of the recent American Transmission Company (ATC) installation of high-voltage transmission lines.
“On the other side, it’s very conducive to landowners,” Clark said about the potential solar project, noting that leases to Invenergy would be more profitable than leases to farmers.
Clark said as of the end of May, she believed no contracts had been signed, but added she did hear “interest and positive feedback from some [landowners].”
Farmers who lease cropland would lose out, though.
According to the newsletter, all the land would remain zoned for agricultural use. The leases would be for 25 years with a renewal of 25 years if possible.
The goal is to lease up to 2,500 acres of contiguous land near the North Madison Substation on Patton Road just north of Hwy. V, according to the town’s newsletter.
Landowners south of V on Patton Road have also been approached, Clark said.
The solar panels are about 3-foot by 7-foot each. The panels would track the sun, produce power from it, and transmit it to the substation, according to the town’s newsletter.
Another Invenergy project, the Badger Hollow Solar Project, was recently approved in Iowa County, but faced controversy. According to a Wisconsin State Journal report from December, some farmers who looked to lease land to Invenergy anticipated a higher income and wanted to be part of the green energy economy.
Others, however, were concerned about the destruction of the scenic beauty and the loss of productive farmland.
The PSC’s approval of the Badger Hollow project was challenged in May on grounds that the PSC’s chairwoman should have abstained from voting on the project because her former law firm had represented Wisconsin Public Service Corp., which would own a share of the project.
At 2,200 acres, the Badger Hollow Solar Farm is anticipated to be the largest solar project in the Midwest when it is completed. It is planned to bring 300 megawatts of generation to an Iowa County substation where it would feed into the electrical grid. According to a State Journal report, it would generate enough electricity to power 70,000 homes.
According to Invenergy’s website, the company is a “leading privately held, global developer and operator of sustainable energy solutions.” With a home office in Chicago, Illinois, Invenergy has developed 146 projects in four continents, the website states.
A consultant for the Invenergy project, Kim Egan, said he was unable to comment on it at this time.
Clark said she town staff had heard rumors about the company’s representatives meeting with landowners last fall. At tax time, one landowner inquired about the project at the town hall.
The town’s attorney then suggested a public meeting be scheduled.
“The town had not been approached initially at all,” Clark said. “We don’t even know our side of it.”
Clark said a representative from the company did stop in later to discuss the plan and appeared at the plan commission meeting.
“The first process is finding out if there’s interest form landowners before talking to the municipalities,” Clark said.