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Utilities seek to buy $446 million solar and battery project in Walworth County
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Utilities seek to buy $446 million solar and battery project in Walworth County

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Two Creeks aerial (copy)

The 150-megawatt Two Creeks solar plant began generating electricity last year and is Wisconsin's largest to date. WEC Energy Group and Madison Gas and Electric are seeking to spend $872 million on two much larger solar farms with battery storage.

Three of Wisconsin’s largest utilities plan to spend $446 million on a second large-scale solar farm with battery storage.

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Madison Gas and Electric and the WEC Energy Group filed a request Tuesday to buy a Walworth County solar farm that would generate enough electricity for about 75,000 homes and include a battery that could discharge up to 75 megawatts for four hours.

Invenergy, a Chicago-based energy company, is developing the 250-megawatt solar plant, which if approved by regulators would occupy about 2,000 acres stretching west from Delavan to the Rock County line.

If approved, WEC subsidiaries We Energy and Wisconsin Public Service Corp. would together own 90% and MGE the other 10%. The utilities say in their application that the project will result in lower rates than continuing to run their existing generators.

The state Public Service Commission has scheduled public hearings for April 22 on the Darien Solar Energy Center. A decision on the construction permit would likely come this summer. If approved, construction is expected to begin late this year with the project coming online by the end of 2023.

The purchase will require separate approval from the PSC.

This is the second solar-plus-battery project that MGE and WEC are pursuing.

Last month the utilities announced plans to purchase a 310-megawatt solar and storage plant under development in Kenosha County in partnership with Madison Gas and Electric for a combined $426 million.

“For the second time this year, we are demonstrating our commitment to a clean energy future with a major investment in renewable energy,” said Tom Metcalfe, president of We Energies and Wisconsin Public Service Corp. “Not only will these projects maintain reliability and deliver significant savings, building these facilities in Wisconsin will create green jobs and help drive the state’s economy.”

WEC last year announced plans to invest $2 billion in solar, wind and battery projects by 2025 while retiring 1,800 megawatts of fossil fuel capacity, which the company says will help reach its goal of cutting carbon dioxide emissions 70% by the end of the decade.

MGE president and CEO Jeff Keebler (copy)

Keebler

MGE is targeting a 65% carbon reduction by 2030, and both utilities have a goal of carbon-neutral electricity by 2050, which is in line with what scientists say is needed to avoid the most catastrophic impacts of climate change.

“Further investment in cost-effective, clean energy and battery-storage technology will allow us to continue reliably serving our customers as we work together to meet our carbon-reduction goals,” said MGE president Jeff Keebler. “We have said since introducing our clean energy and carbon-reduction goals, if we can go further faster, we will.”


Fave 5: Reporter Chris Hubbuch picks his top stories from 2019

We are sharing Wisconsin State Journal staffers' favorite work from 2019. From energy and environment reporter Chris Hubbuch: 

My story about researchers mapping the toxic history of lead and zinc mining in southwest Wisconsin checks all the boxes for what I find interesting -- history, the environmental cost of human industry, geography, technology, and a bit of mystery. It was one of my favorite stories to write and also one of the most-read, a consonance that rarely happens on my beat. 

Case in point: I truly enjoyed trying to explain the concept of stranded assets and how ratepayers can get left holding the bill when utilities shut down generators ahead of schedule. It's wonky stuff, but kind of a big deal in a state where utilities have invested billions of dollars in coal-fired plants in the past 20 years, plants that are now struggling to compete with cheaper natural gas and clean energy like wind and solar. 

Along the same lines, it was fun trying to explore the different paths to a carbon-free electrical grid and the opportunities the transition could offer for ratepayers to become energy producers

As much as I dislike politics, it was hard to ignore the ongoing battle between two key Trump constituencies -- Midwestern farmers and ethanol producers on one side and the petroleum industry on the other. Plus I got to use the phrase "fight to the knife."

Finally, one of my favorite -- and most popular -- stories was one not from my beat. The Garver Feed Mill reopened this summer after nearly two decades of neglect and stalled redevelopment efforts. As a recent transplant, it was an opportunity to learn about some of Madison's agricultural and manufacturing heritage as well as city politics. The public was clearly hungry to get a look -- and a slice -- overwhelming Ian's Pizza on their first day of business. 

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It’s been 40 years since the last zinc mine closed and nearly two centuries since Southwest Wisconsin was the nation’s primary source of lead. The last vestiges of the industry have all but disappeared, but the toxic legacy remains.

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As renewable energy drives down the cost of wholesale electricity, utilities are shuttering expensive coal plants early. Should ratepayers continue to ensure shareholders profit from their investments?

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  • 8 min to read

New technology and a growing acceptance of climate change have brought the nation to the cusp of an energy transformation. But who profits from it, and is there time?

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The petroleum industry and ethanol producers are fighting over federal mandates that require refineries to blend biofuels into their gasoline and the Trump administration's growing use of exemptions.

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Part of a $19.8 million project -- including more than $10 million in public funding -- that could eventually include an adjacent hotel, Garver Feed Mill will host an event center and 11 other local food and wellness businesses.

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