Three electricity companies have teamed up to buy a large solar array to be built in Walworth and Rock counties this fall.
We Energies and Wisconsin Public Service Corp. apply for state approval to buy 90% of the project. Madison Gas & Electric would receive the remaining 10% if the state government commission approves the sale.
With 250 megawatts, the project would be one of the highest producing solar systems in the country. That's enough energy to supply around 75,000 households a year with electricity, said Beth Conley, spokeswoman for project developer Invenergy.
Chicago-based Invenergy developed the project approved by the Public Service Commission. The Commission is currently examining whether the sale to the utility companies should be approved.
Work is slated to begin in late fall with more than 400 workers busy during construction, Conley said. Four permanent full-time employees would operate the solar park.
The array would start generating electricity on December 31, 2023, according to the sale proposal.
About 25 landowners are involved in the project and will lease land for 50 years, Conley said.
The buyers plan to purchase and build the project for approximately $ 446 million, as per their application to the Public Services Commission.
Invenergy has options to lease 4,000 acres. Of this, 2,045 acres – approximately 3.2 square miles – are earmarked for the project.
Exactly what acres will be used has not been determined, Conley said.
According to the law, applicants must set aside at least 25% additional land for alternative locations within the project boundary. Any leases that ultimately go unused would either be retained for future potential projects or terminated if they didn't house solar panels, Conley said.
Fields of solar panels connected by underground cables are said to extend from the outskirts of Delavan through the town of Darien to eastern Rock County.
The 600,000 to 850,000 photovoltaic modules consist of crystalline silicon that is enclosed in anti-reflective glass. They would stand in north-south rows and convert sunshine into electricity. Electric motors would tilt the panels in daylight and track the sun's progress across the sky, according to project documents.
Energy would be stored in a battery system on site that would fill production gaps when the sun is not shining.
This project could be “powered back” after the equipment wears out, the sales document says.
The top two buyers believe the array will save their customers nearly $ 1 billion over a 20 year period, based on an unpublished pricing analysis.
The state's shared revenue formula for utilities means an annual payment of $ 1 million per year, with Walworth and Rock counties receiving 58% of the total and cities Darien and Bradford 42%, based on the proportion of each county and megawatts built in every city.
The proposal stipulates that Invenergy would operate the array for the utility companies.
Invenergy says it is “committed to building positive relationships with communities where projects are hosted by employing approximately 70% of the (operations and maintenance) staff on site” and providing volunteer time and money for local organizations and donate events.
The development is part of a trend in Wisconsin and across the country as utility companies ditch old fossil fuel burning facilities to reduce their carbon footprint. The drastic reduction in the cost of solar modules and incentives provided by the federal government make such projects competitive with systems for fossil fuels, depending on the application.
“Although energy is currently available in the market at a relatively low cost, the project provides valuable hedge against the potential for higher energy costs in the future, especially in the midsummer hours when Darien is expected to generate energy at or near its stated capacity on the nameplate ”, it says in the sales proposal.
The three utilities have also partnered to purchase two more Invenergy solar panels, the 300-megawatt Badger Hollow in Iowa County and a 250-megawatt in the city of Paris, Kenosha County.