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Dane County Board paves way for all-renewable energy with approval of major solar farm

Dane County Board paves way for all-renewable energy with approval of major solar farm

MGE Solar

The Dane County Board approved an agreement with Alliant Energy Thursday to develop a 16.5-megawatt solar farm in the town of Cottage Grove. Here, solar panels are installed at Middleton's public works operations center.

In two moves aimed at bettering the environment, the Dane County Board on Thursday approved the purchase of 295 acres to expand Indian Lake County Park and a major solar farm that would allow the county to move to all-renewable energy.

County Board members unanimously authorized an agreement for Alliant Energy to build a 16.5-megawatt solar farm on county-owned property in the town of Cottage Grove. The project still needs approval from state regulators.

Under the agreement, the county would lease the land to Alliant in exchange for renewable energy credits.

The partnership would allow the county to offset all its operational electricity use with renewable energy produced by the Alliant farm, along with energy from the county’s own solar panels and a 9-megawatt solar farm under construction at the Dane County Regional Airport.

“Once the two of those are both online, at that time we will be meeting 100% of our electricity needs for county operations from renewable sources,” said John Welch, director of the county’s Department of Waste and Renewables.

With more than 55,000 solar panels and enough energy to power 3,000 Dane County homes in a year, the Alliant solar farm would be the county’s largest solar project yet. It would occupy about 140 acres of a 160-acre parcel straddling Femrite Road.

Assuming no hiccups in development or permitting, Alliant plans to have the solar project operational in late 2022 or early 2023, Welch said.

Park acquisition

Also Thursday, the County Board unanimously approved the $2.9 million purchase of 295 acres in the town of Berry to expand the popular Indian Lake County Park.

Indian Lake Oak Savanna

Shane Otto, a land restoration specialist with Dane County Parks, stands in an oak savanna undergoing restoration at Indian Lake County Park in July. The County Board approved a major land purchase that will expand the park to the largest in the county.

The expansion will bring the total space of Indian Lake County Park to nearly 800 acres, making it the largest recreation park in the county. The money is coming from the Dane County Conservation Fund.

“This purchase will give us the space to expand the trail system and realign to stop erosion of steep trails,” said Sup. Dave Ripp, chair of the Park Commission. “The pandemic has shown the need for larger places for people to get outside in nature.”

The park has areas for hiking, picnicking, cross-country skiing, archery hunting and fishing. It also includes a dog park.

The new property, directly south of the current park, features rolling hills, fields, wooded areas, a stream and six greenhouses, which the county plans to use for park activities. It would allow for the re-routing of trails experiencing erosion and create new options for connecting to the Ice Age National Scenic Trail nearby.

New housing

The board also approved awarding $2.05 million from the county’s Affordable Housing Development Fund to the developer JT Klein for an affordable housing project at 6270 Limestone Lane in Fitchburg.

Plans for the apartment complex include 116 units, all geared toward those who make less than the county median income, which is $90,360 for a family of three.

Most of the units — 59 of them — would be for those who earn less than 50% of the county median income, or $45,200 for a family of three. Another 29 units would be for those making less than 70% of the median income.

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