Iowa County solar farm to benefit farmers, utility customers

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IOWA COUNTY (WKOW) — Construction starts this summer to build a 3,500 acre solar farm in Iowa County, powering homes across the state of Wisconsin.

If you live in Madison, some of your electricity will soon be powered by panels at farms near Cobb.

The state Public Service Commission approved two big projects on Thursday, including Badger Hollow Solar Farm.

That project, and another near Manitowoc, are expected to power 120,000 homes, according to the commission. The farms will quadruple the state’s solar capacity.

Development company Invenergy has been working with farmers in Iowa County to rent cropland for the panels.

Evelyn Mueller, whose family has been growing crops and raising cattle in Montfort since the 1950s, says her family has always tried to be environmentally conscious.

“It’s our duty, in my mind, to to be a good steward of any property we have,” she told 27 News. “To me, conservation is very important.”

The Muellers even installed solar panels in the 1970s to power their home, but now they’re looking to the future of the technology.

Mueller agreed to rent 40 of her 400 acres for the solar farm.

Her son Mike Mueller says property owners can make more with these deals than what they can get for traditional crops right now.

“What is being offered to the property owners for a lease payment from Invenergy is more than two times what those same property owners can receive for cash rent for crop production,” he said.

He says he and his son will lose those acres for growing crops, but he expects the deal could open up new avenues, like beekeeping or grazing sheep.

“They’re going to be planting what they call pollinators underneath those panels,” Mike Mueller said.

Madison, Gas & Electric customers will benefit from the solar energy, too.

MG&E and Wisconsin Public Service, in northern Wisconsin, will share the energy coming from the two solar projects to power communities across the state.

“It’s moving us forward on those goals towards deep decarbonization, reducing carbon emissions, more sustainable energy,” said Steve Schultz, corporate communications manager for MG&E.

MG&E customers will see their bills go up about one percent to cover the cost of the initial work on the projects, but Schultz says they can expect savings over the lifetime of the project. The company is spending $130 million on the two farms.

Schultz says it puts MG&E on the path to its goal of 30 percent renewable energy by the year 2030.

“You know where your energy is coming from. It’s such a great thing,” he said.

A spokesperson for Invenergy says every year the project will also contribute more than $3 million in landowner and tax payments, along with local spending and salaries for jobs created. More than $83 million will be invested in the community over the life of the project.

The land use agreements are for the next 25 years with the option of an extension.

Construction on Badger Hollow starts in July. Developers hope to have it operational by the end of 2020.

Jennifer Kliese

Jennifer Kliese

Weekend Anchor and Reporter, 27 News

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