Plans for sprawling solar farm clear hurdle

PSC will allow Alliant to run Town of Holland operation but project approval is pending
Ozaukee Press staff

The Wisconsin Public Service Commission last week agreed to let Alliant Energy operate the proposed Onion River Solar farm in the Town of Holland, despite the fact the 150-megawatt facility has not yet been approved by the PSC.

The massive Onion River solar farm, which is expected to be built on 1,000 to 1,200 acres of primarily farmland in the northwest corner of the Town of Holland, was among six solar electric generation facilities the PSC agreed could be acquired, constructed, owned or operated by Alliant.

The projects, which would generate a total of 675 megawatts of power, are in Rock, Grant, Jefferson, Sheboygan, Richland and Wood counties.

PSC Chairman Rebecca Cameron Valcq made the announcement on April 22, the 51st anniversary of Earth Day, saying “projects like these will continue to allow for the closure of coal-burning power plants while we ensure safe, reliable and affordable service for customers.”

Emily Straka, project representative and assistant developer for Ranger Power, the New York-based firm that proposed the solar array and would construct it, called the PSC’s action “an important milestone” for the project.

The PSC is continuing to review the Onion River project application, Straka said, noting she expects the agency to issue a decision on the application by late July.

“We are continuing to work with the neighbors and talk to them about their concerns,” she added.

Ranger Power has a 40-year rental agreement for almost 1,900 acres owned by 13 property owners. The solar farm will only use about 1,000 acres, with the remaining land returned to landowners.

When the leases expire, Ranger Power will remediate the property.

The company will develop the solar farm, then sell it to Alliant Energy, which will operate it.

Plans for the project have proven controversial, with some property owners arguing it will destroy the bucolic atmosphere the town is known for. 

But town officials have said they have little control over the project, noting the state Public Service Commission is charged with reviewing these kinds of projects and issuing the needed permits.

Last November, the Town of Holland Board and Sheboygan County each ratified a developer’s agreement with Ranger Power that oversees aspects of the project that the PSC does not, primarily in the areas of finances, design and process commitments.

For example, the agreement requires Ranger Power to provide a $1 million in a surety bond or letter of credit to fund its decommissioning plan and ensure the land it leases for the field will be restored at the end of the 40-year life of the solar farm.

Because the project will take land off the tax rolls, the company will pay the Cedar Grove-Belgium and Oostburg school districts and Lakeshore Technical College whatever tax revenues they lose due to its solar field each year, and it will provide the Town of Holland $250,000 annually and Sheboygan County $350,000 annually in shared revenue.

The agreement also provides for Onion River Solar to mitigate the impact of the solar farm on neighbors.

The solar field will be set back at least 150 feet from houses that are not on land being leased by the company, and at least 20 feet from property lines.

Where there are solar panels on two or more sides of a neighboring property, the setbacks increase to 200 feet and 50 feet, respectively.

If the PSC approves the project, it is expected to take 12 to 18 months to build the solar farm.



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Ozaukee Press

Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

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