POTOSI, Wis. — Residents reacted with a mix of skepticism, curiosity and bewilderment Monday after reviewing plans for a proposed 800-acre solar farm in Grant County.
The 200-megawatt installation, known as the Grant County Solar Energy Center, would be centered in Potosi Township along U.S. 61 between Tennyson and Lancaster, and would represent one of Wisconsin’s largest utility-scale arrays.
“There is nothing set in stone that says that the project is going forward,” project director Toni Darwish, of developer NextEra Energy Resources, told the more than 100 people who filled the Holiday Garden Event Center in Potosi.
With an anticipated in-service date of 2021, the $250 million to $350 million project has been under study for about three years. An official application will be filed in April for review by the Public Service Commission of Wisconsin.
About 10 landowners have signed confidential rental agreements, which are valid for 30 years, with an option for renewal for an additional 20 years.
NextEra Energy estimates an annual payment of $800,000 to $1 million to be distributed to Grant County and Potosi Township in shared revenue.
Dave Fritz is leasing 700 acres of property north of the unincorporated community of Rockville.
“We looked at it very carefully and based on the research that we did and the positive environmental impacts that clean energy has and the significant financial benefit to the county and the local township … we made the decision to make some of our land available,” he said. “I clearly understand why some people wouldn’t want to do it.”
Henry Frear, who rents farmland in Potosi Township adjacent to the proposed facility, fears the array will create a “heat island” and stress nearby livestock or confuse migratory birds that perceive the panels as a body of water.
“I would really like to see the University of Wisconsin or some other research institution have access to the grounds,” he said. “I’m not against the solar (installation), I just want to make sure that research can be done by a third party to make sure that facilities like this don’t become a burden on those around it.”
Darwish said the company would “love to entertain the possibility” of collaborative research but has not been contacted by an interested party.
South of the project area, an electric substation will be constructed that will link to the existing Potosi-Hillman 138-kilovolt line. The company has not decided to which entity — for example, a cooperative or utility company — the energy would be sold.
Although the array is a private investment and will be owned by a company subsidiary, if it is sold in the future and purchased by a Wisconsin utility, electric customers could incur project costs, Darwish said.
NextEra Energy estimates construction would see the creation of between 250 to 350 jobs and several permanent positions.