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Solar farm developer will seek state okay

The company said it expects early in 2021 to apply for a certificate of public convenience and necessity from the Public Service Commission of Wisconsin

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Sixteen months after announcing its vision for a large solar project in the Cambridge area, a Chicago firm is starting to work through the state regulatory process.

On Dec. 18, Invenergy, LLC filed a 27-page engineering plan with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources for its Koshkonong Solar Energy Center.

The company said it expects early in 2021 to apply for a certificate of public convenience and necessity from the Public Service Commission of Wisconsin.

State statute requires that it submit the engineering plan to the DNR at least 60 days before filing for the certificate from the PSC. A certificate of public convenience and necessity from the PSC is required for facilities that generate 100 megawatts of electricity or more.

PSC Communications Director Jerel Ballard said this week a hearing before the commission has not yet been scheduled for the proposal.

The documents submitted to the DNR list 3 federal, 7 state, 4 Dane County and 5 permits from the Towns of Christiana and Deerfield that Invenergy would have to obtain to proceed.

According to the engineering plan, the Cambridge-area project would be an up to 375-megawatt electrical generation facility that might also include an on-site battery energy storage system.

It would be built on up to 2,600 acres within a total project area of 11,900 acres in the Towns of Deerfield and Christiana, just west of Cambridge and bisected by U.S. Highway 12-18.

What is proposed is comparable to the Badger Hollow Solar Farm, a 3,500-acre, 300-megawatt Invenergy project in Iowa County.

The Koshkonong Solar Energy Project could involve the installation of up to 912,000 solar panels on land leased from area property owners, with each panel able to generate up to 530 watts of electricity.

The project is also envisioned to involve the construction of new gravel access roads; a new substation with at least two main transformers and other equipment; new above and below ground cabling; a new quarter-mile-long transmission line to connect into the American Transmission Company’s Rockdale substation; a new operations and maintenance facility; and a battery storage system.

The report to the DNR includes environmental impact information, noting the potential impact on wetlands and streams within the project area and the potential impact to plant and animal species including bats and bumblebees, whooping cranes and varieties of orchid, clover and milkweed. One natural area, the 40-acre Smith-Reiner Drumlin Prairie preserve owned by the Prairie Enthusiasts, is within the project area.

The properties envisioned to be developed are a patchwork of properties across the project area, mostly currently in agriculture use. Invenergy has said that the land will remain zoned for agriculture use.

Invenergy hopes to begin construction in early 2022 and to be in operation by late 2023.

Invenergy develops, builds, owns and operates large-scale wind, natural gas, solar and battery storage projects across the United States, and internationally.

In an email this week, Invenergy Project Developer Aidan O’Connor said the company hopes to apply for a certificate of public convenience and necessity from the PSC in the first quarter of 2021. The filing begins a roughly year-long PSC review and approval process that will involve opportunities for public input.

In the email, O’Connor said the site is ideal, with “flat, open land with willing participants and tremendous access to the electrical grid via on-site transmission lines and substations. And it’s near the growing Madison metropolitan area that is experiencing a growing demand for electricity and clean electricity.”

The company said it will bring construction jobs and up to five permanent operations and maintenance jobs to the Cambridge area, and it expects to contribute $1.5 million per year in tax revenue split between Dane County and the two townships and will also invest in the local Cambridge-area economy.

A heavily-attended public meeting on the proposal was held at the Christiana Town Hall in September 2019. No public meetings have occurred since, during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Property owners – mainly local farmers — that agree to lease their land to Invenergy will also benefit financially from those lease payments.

“We are grateful for the support that the project enjoys in Christiana and Deerfield townships and look forward to continuing to work with landowners and community members as we move through the review process,” O’Connor said.

In a letter to area property owners late in 2020, obtained by the Cambridge News & Deerfield Independent, O’Connor said the Koshkonong Solar Energy Center will generate enough sustainable energy to power 60,000 homes “and reduce emissions equivalent to taking 65,000 cars off the road each year.”

“At Invenergy, we take pride in our long track record of building and maintaining strong community relationships,” the letter also said.

Since announcing the plans, Invenergy has sought to cement its commitment to the Cambridge area by donating $5,000 to a planned connector bike path linking Cambridge to the Glacial Drumlin State Trail.

There is local opposition to the solar plan. Tara Vasby, who lives on Clear View Road in the Town of Christiana, told the Christiana Town Board in December that her family’s concerns include long-term damage to property values, animal and human health and soil; inadequate property line setbacks; noise; groundwater impacts; aesthetics; and the use of prime farmland for development. Vasby also said her family would like more information on the future decommissioning and removal of the equipment and restoration.

“While I support energy alternatives, I do not support utility scale solar projects on prime farmland and without sufficient data to prove there are no long-term negative effects,” Vasby told the Town Board.

Vasby also asked at the December meeting that any Town Board members leasing land to Invenergy recuse themselves going forward from voting on anything related to the project.

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