GAYS MILLS - To my way of thinking, every farm is a solar farm. Regardless of what is being produced, farmers harvest solar energy to grow their crops and feed their livestock.
But have you heard about the large actual solar farm proposed for southwest Wisconsin? It was written up in last Sunday’s Wisconsin State Journal and that’s the only place I’ve seen anything about it…so far. I’m sure there will be lots of reporting on it as the project shapes up.
The Badger Hollow solar project is a partnership between an Illinois firm, Invenergy, and two Wisconsin utilities. The plan is to establish a 2,500-acre site and cover it with solar panels, up to 1.2 million of them. This would be in western Iowa county just east and south of Montfort, home, since 2001, to the Montfort Energy Center, whose 20 wind power towers you have probably seen. Completed, it would make Badger Hollow one of the largest such projects in the nation, generating 300 megawatts of electricity.
There is some understandable resistance to the proposed project. Neighbors are concerned about the way it will look, the glare, the sound of some 3,150 electric motors being used to track the sun, and the loss of some prime agricultural land. The not-in-my-backyard response is now not-in-my-back forty it seems. The Citizens Utility Board (CUB) is concerned about a streamlined approval process, with less scrutiny involved since it is a private firm behind the project and not a utility company.
Others are concerned about the eventual decommissioning of the project, which is 25 to 30 years in the future. Another concern might be how the facility would be maintained, particularly concerning brush and grass control. Will there be a lot of spraying herbicides involved? My two cents: could sheep or cattle be pastured in among the panels?
We are all interested in developing new ways to fill our energy needs. We hear about making a smaller carbon footprint. This clean, quiet installation would be an interesting way to do those things. But the ‘footprint’ of the solar farm would be considerable. One neighbor is quoted as saying, ”It’s not going to be the Driftless area. It’s going to be the utility district of southwest Wisconsin.”
Wisconsin has been known as a state with low solar potential, unlike California and Nevada, where other large solar installations are located. But tax incentives and new efficiencies in solar panels have changed the situation. This installation would provide electric power to over 70,00 homes.
The landowners who are able to participate in this project are not unhappy. They will receive $700 rent per acre for 30 years. That’s sort of like winning the solar lottery for these lucky landowners.