Utility regulators have rejected an effort to block what would be Wisconsin’s largest renewable energy source, defending a process that allows utilities to buy a plant after unregulated companies secure a permit.
Invenergy, a Chicago-based developer, is seeking a permit to build a solar-plus-storage facility on about 2,400 acres west of Cambridge. The 465-megawatt Koshkonong Solar Energy Center would produce enough electricity to power about 80,000 typical homes.
Three utilities, including We Energies and Madison Gas and Electric, are seeking to purchase the project for $649 million.
The town of Christiana and two residents asked the Public Service Commission to deny the permit, saying the utilities and developer are exploiting a legal loophole to avoid regulatory scrutiny.
That’s because unregulated companies like Invenergy don’t have to justify the need or cost of a project or show that it is the most cost effective solution. Utilities like MGE, which pass on the costs, with interest, to their ratepayers, are held to a higher standard.
Invenergy and the utilities insist the so-called “site and acquire” method, which has been used in eight of the 11 large-scale solar projects approved by the PSC, follows the letter of the law.
Attorney Frank Jablonski, who represents Koshkonong opponents, said they are trying to “loophole-lawyer” their way around the requirements.
According to a staff memo, the opponents didn’t cite any law supporting their argument. The PSC’s administrative law judge previously ruled concerns about the “site and acquire” approach should be raised in the parallel acquisition case.
The PSC voted 2-0 without discussion to take no action, which has the effect of denying the motion. Commissioner Tyler Huebner recused himself from the Koshkonong permitting process after opponents accused him of advocating for the project in his previous role as head of Renew Wisconsin.