JEFFERSON — Small businesses might be struggling in the COVID-19 economy, but it appears that large utilities are not, as Jefferson County board supervisors spent the majority of a regular meeting for December Tuesday hearing about two big projects proposed for their jurisdiction.
One of these is the Crawfish River Solar farm being planned in the Town of Jefferson. This project, however, achieved no more than mere mention of its status Tuesday.
The other, a Liquified Natural Gas storage tank pitched for locating in Ixonia, stole the show, eliciting considerable public comment — mostly from residents of Ixonia opposed to it.
The LNG storage tank, proposed by WE Energies, has been rooted in controversy since well before a September Ixonia Town Board meeting. During that autumn session, the board — despite dozens speaking against it — voted 3-1 to recommend that Jefferson County officials approve a conditional use permit to allow We Energies to construct the facility.
On Tuesday, Jessica Rupnow of Ixonia told supervisors WE Energies is saddling area residents with all of the “risk and headaches" of such a project, while offering them nothing in terms of personal compensation.
The town and county, on the other hand, stand to profit from the facility on an annual basis. The town could receive estimated shared revenue payments of $550,000 yearly; the county, $1.1 million.
In recent days, the county’s planning and zoning committee approved the conditional use permit for the tank. About all that remains for WE Energies is that it enter into a Joint Development Agreement with the Town of Ixonia and Jefferson County, then receive approval for the tank from the state Public Service Commission.
The project, as it is proposed by We Energies, calls for the liquid natural gas tank to be located on 20 acres of approximately 165 total acres that currently is farmland.
The tank facility would sit on the 20 acres, while the remainder would be farmed by its usual agriculturalists and current owners, the Dale Griebenow family. The plan is for the Griebenows to sell their land to WE Energies, then rent it for continued cultivation.
The facility, if realized, would be located northeast of Hill and North roads.
In addition to the site in Ixonia, the total project would include a location in Walworth County’s Town of LaGrange. Each would cost approximately $185 million.
According to We Energies, each site would include pretreatment equipment, the LNG storage tank, vaporization equipment and truck loading/unloading equipment.
According to We Energies and Jefferson County Zoning Administrator Matt Zangle Tuesday, southeastern Wisconsin is in need of additional natural gas supplies to meet customer use on the coldest days of the year. Ixonia is a strategic location for the utility, because there already are gas lines nearby.
Echoing what We Energies Project Manager Rick O’Conor has said, Zangle described what liquid natural gas storage facilities do.
Natural gas is taken from the underground pipeline system during summer, when demand is lowest. It then is cooled until it turns into a liquid and is stored in a tank.
During winter, when demand for natural gas is high, the liquid natural gas is warmed and returned to its gas form. It then is sent back through the pipeline system for customers to use in heating homes.
Zangle also addressed for supervisors safety and other measures that would be in place at the facility.
The tank would hold 12 million gallons of gas, and would be 150 feet high and 150 feet in diameter. A typical water tower in the U.S. is said to be 140 feet high.
We Energies said there are more than 100 existing “peaking plants” in the U.S. Some of these that are closer to Dodge and Jefferson counties include ones in central Illinois; Oak Creek; St. Paul, Minn.; and Eau Claire.
Griebenow family members and their Madison-based eminent domain lawyer, Erik Olsen, told the board the sale is permissible under the law and will allow them to make some profit off land that has been in their family for decades, as well as continue to farm. They said they are convinced the project is safe and plan to live near the site.
The Griebenows and Olsen argued that the A-1 zoning of the land allows for construction of things such as utilities, meaning a tank such as the one proposed is legal under zoning rules contained in state statutes. The Jefferson County Planning and Zoning Committee approved the conditional use permit for the project with a condition that WE Energies enter into the Joint Development Agreement.
Olsen said his clients have a basic property right to use their land as they wish, in a lawful manner. He stressed the land is zoned A-1, the county granted a conditional use permit for the project and utilities are permitted there, all but adding the case — legally at least — is closed.
“Anybody who moves in here should be on notice that this can happen here,” Olsen said. “You may have a utility-type use here … This is clearly an appropriate location for this facility. The Griebenows have a right to do this."
In addition to Rupnow, others who spoke during a period of public comment at the meeting reiterated concerns they have expressed since the tank was first proposed. These included safety, the likelihood of plummeting individual home and property values, wear and tear on roads, and a general visual degradation of the rural landscape.
Dyan Pasono, of Watertown, said she believes the conditional use permitting process is flawed because it did not address “human-impact data.” She said it did nothing to assess how the tank actually will affect residents of the area.
Pasono said 928 lives will be impacted by placement of the facility. She also said the conditional use process did not take into account full environmental impacts of the project.
She called it a “hazardous facility,” before noting that the storage tank is rooted in the concept of fossil fuel usage — something she said is not sustainable and rapidly is falling into disfavor in the U.S.
“Please listen to your citizenry,” Pasono stated.
If the project is approved, construction could begin in spring of 2021. Spring of 2023 would see the beginning of the facility’s start-up and filling of the LNG tank. Commercial operation could begin in fall of 2023.
The Crawfish River Solar project, proposed in the Town of Jefferson, is scheduled to be maintained on 450 of 700 leased acres with a 75-megawatt output. It is a smaller version of a 149-megawatt Badger State Solar project, which would be adjacent to it. Both projects are being undertaken by Ranger Power, LLC.
The Crawfish River project has been approved by the town, as well as the Jefferson County Planning and Zoning Committee.
The Badger project is farther along than the Crawfish installation. A Joint Development Agreement is one of the last remaining items that needs approval before construction on the Crawfish solar farm can begin.
Jefferson County Administrator Ben Wehmeier urged those interested in the storage tank and solar farm to monitor the agendas of the Jefferson County Executive Committee, which is handling the matters.
Amy Rinard, chairwoman of the executive committee, said her panel will provide ample opportunity for the public to speak on both matters, at appropriate times, when they appear on agendas.