The outbreak of the new COVID-19 coronavirus could put Wisconsin’s first large-scale solar farms behind schedule and over budget.
The developers of projects under construction in Iowa and Manitowoc counties say the global spread of the virus and the related travel restrictions and factory shutdowns in China have disrupted supply chains for the solar panels.
In a Feb. 6 letter, NextEra said supply chain disruptions were “adversely impacting” one of its suppliers’ ability to deliver products on time and would require an adjustment of the schedule for the 150-megawatt Two Creeks Solar Farm near Lake Michigan.
Invenergy, the developer of the Badger Hollow project in Iowa County, identified the potential for delays but said the rapid spread of the disease and uncertain nature of its effects make it difficult to predict the final impact.
Wisconsin Public Service, one of three utilities that have contracted to purchase the solar farms, submitted the letters to the Public Service Commission, which has authorized them to spend a combined $597 million.
A spokesman for the Solar Energy Industries Association said the trade group is concerned about the outbreak and is receiving initial reports of supply chain disruptions.
“While those reports are limited in scope now, companies are making contingency plans and back-up arrangements in the event of more significant disruptions,” said Dan Whitten, SEIA’s vice president of public affairs.
It’s not clear how the virus outbreak could affect the final cost to Wisconsin utility ratepayers.
The PSC denied the utilities’ requests for pre-approval of up to 10% in cost overruns.
In granting approval last week for acquisition of the second half of Badger Hollow, PSC Chairwoman Rebecca Valcq said the commission could consider cost overruns in future rate cases.
Corey Singletary, an analyst with the Citizens Utility Board, said based on past cases he expects the utilities would seek to pass on any costs that result from what’s known as “force majeure,” or unforeseen circumstances that interfere with a contract.
“If they can’t make it up somewhere else ... history would suggest utilities would absolutely be in asking for those cost overruns,” he said.