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Solar array coming to county land in the town of Cottage Grove

The Town of Cottage Grove will likely see a solar farm emerge on county-owned land within the township within the next year.

The Cottage Grove Town Board approved a proposal from SunVest Solar LLC on Monday, Nov. 1, after the proposal was recommended by the town plan commission on Wednesday Oct. 27 following a public hearing.

SunVest is a Pewaukee-based solar developer that was created in 2009, and has received multiple commendations for its work.

SunVest Solar developers are envisioning placing a 20 megawatt solar farm on a 178-acre lot owned by Dane County at 3087 Luds Lane. The site is east of County Highway AB and North of U.S. Highway 12-18, near the Dane County Landfill and Hope Lutheran Church. The lot is located in the Town of Cottage Grove, and is bisected by Femrite Drive.

Developers are proposing a 20 megawatt solar array, taking up about 109 acres on the total 178-acre lot. Those 109 acres would be surrounded by a seven-foot chain link fence.

Bill French, a project developer at SunVest Solar, told the Cottage Grove plan commission that the panels would have minimal glare, be quiet during the day and night, and the site would require minimal maintenance and traffic.

The panels would be tracking panels that moved with the sun’s position, French said, and mounted to steel posts driven 8 to 15 feet into the ground. The panels are motored to adjust their position, but those motors only run for 18 minutes a day, French said.

At their maximum, the panels would reach about eight feet tall. The rows of panels would have 16 to 20 feet in between them.

Under the panels, French said prairie grasses and pollinator plants would be planted, to maintain topsoil and combat erosion. French also promised minimal topsoil disturbance.

The facility would have three access roads, two off Femrite and one off Luds Lane.

Construction is eyed to begin in spring 2022, with panels going live in early fall 2022. French said that during construction, SunVest expects about 60-70 workers installing panels at the site, but after construction, traffic at the facility should be minimal.

French said SunVest would operate the solar array for the first seven years of its life. The energy generated by the solar panels would enter Alliant Energy’s power grid, and would earn Dane County renewable energy credits to offset its carbon footprint.

Even though the power from the solar array will be used to offset Dane County energy, French said the volume of energy produced at this site would be enough to power 3,000 homes.

After seven years, Alliant would assume the operation of the solar panels, French said.

For the first seven years, the town of Cottage Grove is set to receive a $2,000 a year annual payment from SunVest, because the land is owned by Dane County and tax exempt. After Alliant takes over operations, the town would reportedly be eligible for shared revenue payments, based on a program between public utilities and the state of Wisconsin.

SunVest Solar is seeking a conditional use permit, issued by the Zoning and Land Regulation Committee with the county. As a part of that process, the town of Cottage Grove was able to set certain conditions SunVest had to operate within.

After members of Hope Lutheran Church expressed concern over construction noise levels and visual appeal of the solar array, the township required that SunVest only be allowed to pile drive the steel mounts for the solar panels between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. Monday-Friday. SunVest will also be required to install and maintain a line of arbor vitae across the property line between the solar array and the church, to preserve rural views.

The town also required SunVest to mow the natural grasses under and around the panels three to four times per year, to combat any seed spreading or migration of the plants to other properties.

The county zoning committee will hold a public hearing on this proposal in the coming weeks.

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