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MGE proposes $15M solar farm to serve city, school needs
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MGE proposes $15M solar farm to serve city, school needs

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Madison Gas and Electric is seeking to build a $15.3 million solar farm to provide renewable energy to local city and school buildings.

The utility filed an application with the Public Service Commission Wednesday for the 8-megawatt plant to be built on about 53 acres owned by Hermsdorf Farms north of the Dane County landfill.

The site is about half a mile northwest of a 16.5-megawatt solar farm that Alliant Energy has proposed to build on county land as part of a deal to offset the county’s electricity use.

According to the application, the land was annexed Monday by the city of Madison from the town of Blooming Grove, though MGE previously received a conditional use permit from the county.

MGE proposes 8MW solar farm

Energy from the project would be sold exclusively to the Madison School District and the city of Madison under MGE’s renewable energy rider, which ensures the project costs aren’t passed on to other ratepayers.

According to the application, the school district will purchase 37.5% of the output, with the city taking the balance, which the city estimates will supply almost one-fifth of its total energy needs.

With the Hermsdorf project, the city will have met almost three-quarters of its electricity needs with either renewable energy or renewable energy credits, said sustainability coordinator Stacie Reece.

The city has set a goal of meeting all its electricity needs with renewable energy by the end of this decade, while the school district plans to get there by 2040.

“Projects like these are critical to achieving that goal,” Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway said.

“We cannot do this alone, and we thank the City of Madison and MGE for their partnership, and for the opportunity to come together to work collaboratively in achieving a common goal, to mitigate climate change and ensure a healthier environment for our students and community,” said Superintendent Carlton Jenkins.

If approved, construction would begin in April, and the plant would begin generating electricity by the end of 2021.

The project would be the utility’s fourth solar farm built as part of the dedicated renewable energy program.

MGE this year completed a 5-megawatt solar plant at the Middleton airport to supply the city of Middleton and Middleton Cross Plains School District and a 9-megawatt plant at the Madison airport, which serves Dane County operations. Construction is underway on a 20-megawatt plant in Fitchburg that will provide power to local businesses, the city of Fitchburg and some state properties.

MGE also owns a 50-megawatt share of a solar farm completed this fall in Manitowoc County and a 100-megawatt share of one under construction in Iowa County.

Those solar plants combined would represent about one quarter of MGE’s current generation capacity, more than 40% of which is met with coal-fired generation. MGE has committed to carbon-neutral generation by 2050.

Fave 5: Reporter Chris Hubbuch's favorite stories of 2020

My favorite stories to write are those that require me to learn about something new and force me to see the world from a different perspective. There were many such stories to tell during this extraordinary year, though none of my top five were directly related to the pandemic.

I’d known Wisconsin was a big producer of mink pelts, but I didn’t know that most of the North American fur trade moved through a Stoughton business that traced its lineage back to the Hudson Bay Company. The folks at Saga Furs, who took over the operations of North American Fur Association, were kind enough to teach me about the business and let us photograph them.

Few landscapes have captivated me like the Driftless region, where I was fortunate enough to live for nearly 15 years. It’s an enchanting place with unrivaled beauty, and, it turns out, is also highly resilient to climate change, providing habitat for species that left other parts of southern Wisconsin with the retreating glaciers more than 10,000 years ago. Also, never pass up a chance to spend time in the woods while on the clock.

Journalists spend a lot of time writing about problems -- after all, it’s not news when a plane lands safely -- so it’s refreshing to be able to write about solutions. In this case, a very simple solution -- farming the way it was done for centuries -- fixes so much. It can help farmers turn a profit, keep soil where it belongs, protect lakes and streams, and even fight climate change. And the Gruenfelders are good people running a quality farm on some of the most scenic land in the world.

Full disclosure: for the better part of five decades many of my happiest moments have occurred while riding a bike. I’ve also seen how outdoor recreation opportunities played a role in economic development of two cities I’ve called home -- Chattanooga and La Crosse. So the prospect of developing a city-wide offroad trail network excites me for personal reasons as well as its potential to improve the quality of life for all residents.

This was one of the more difficult stories I wrote this year, largely because of the complexity of the contamination and remediation concerns but also the long history of the plant and redevelopment efforts that weren't familiar to me as a recent transplant. It didn't help that I wrote the story from my daughter's hospital room during a one-day procedure that took four days. (She's fine.)

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