JEFFERSON — After one member of the public spoke at the Jefferson County Board of Supervisors’ public 2020 budget hearing Tuesday evening, county Administrator Ben Wehmeier presented supervisors with a Joint Development Agreement that could soon be in place among Badger State Solar LLC, the county and two townships west of Jefferson.
According to the proposed agreement as it was outlined by Wehmeier, Badger State Solar, LLC wants to develop, construct and operate an up-to-149-megawatt solar, photovoltaic electrical generating facility in the towns of Jefferson and Oakland. Along with the solar farm, itself, will come necessary associated facilities, such as underground power collection lines, access roads, operating and maintenance facilities, an electrical substation and overhead transmission line connections.
Ranger Power, a New York-based solar energy company focused on developing utility-scale solar projects in the Midwest, has been working with interested area farmers and landowners to develop Jefferson County’s Badger State Solar, which would be sited on approximately 1,000 acres of privately owned and relatively flat and open land west of the city of Jefferson, near County Highway Q and State Highway 89.
The solar field would take advantage of the American Transmission Co. substation already located there, which minimizes the project’s footprint and cost, and avoids the need for long transmission lines.
It is anticipated that the project, located between large population centers with high electrical demand including Milwaukee, Racine and Kenosha on the east side and Madison, Beloit and Janesville on the other, will produce enough electricity to meet the equivalent annual needs of about 20,000 homes.
Construction would begin no earlier than 2020, with commercial operation anticipated to start around 2023.
According to Ranger Power, the facility would utilize photovoltaic panels mounted on trackers that will rotate throughout the day to follow the sun, reaching a height of between 10 and 12 feet. Each of the panels will measure six-and-a-half to seven feet in height. Ranger representatives have said the solar project will be quiet, safe and generate electricity without emissions.
The Joint Development Agreement as outlined by Wehmeier, is being put in place because “it is in the best interests of each entity to memorialize the rights, obligations and responsibilities of the parties with respect to the project’s use of county and town roads, rights-of-way and drainage systems during construction and operation of the project … The parties further agree the agreement is the product of joint negotiations and its primary purpose is to foster cooperation and good-faith dealing,” the document reads.
The project is under the jurisdiction of the Public Service Commission (PSC) of Wisconsin. Wehmeier said all such projects in excess of 100 megawatts require PSC regulations and approvals.
“But we wanted to talk about this at the county level,” Wehmeier said.
The purpose of Wehmeier’s presentation of the document Tuesday evening was to introduce supervisors and the public to the concepts and proposals for the solar farm as they stand at the present time. The PSC has public hearings set for Nov. 6 at 2 and 6 p.m. at the Jefferson County Fair Park.
Wehmeier discussed the planning and construction phases of the project; its use of roads and road repair obligations; drainage repair obligations; allocation of utility shared revenues proceeds between local governments; assurances. Also addressed were setbacks, equipment height, vegetation and fencing. The agreement discusses assignment of interest in the facility should Badger State wish to sell it. Decommission of the site is part of the document and Wehmeier said such facilities are known to last between 25-50 years.
“It’s important to establish (these agreements),” Wehmeier said. “
For the document to be ratified, it requires signature from representatives of Badger State Solar, Jefferson County, and the town of Jefferson and Oakland. Town of Oakland Chairman Eugene Kapsner is on record stating his town supports the development.
“The (solar farm) will generate over $550,000 for the towns of Jefferson and Oakland and for Jefferson County,” Kapsner said. “With state-imposed levy limits and continual increases in benefits and materials, these newly shared revenues will go to projects that have been put off for years. Thank you for the opportunity to comment on the Badger State Solar Array, we urge approval of this project which benefits residents near and far in so many ways.”
Jefferson Mayor Dale Oppermann is also urging approval of the project. The City of Jefferson has been a regional leader in solar energy generation for several years.
In addition to the PSC hearings Nov. 6, the county’s executive committee will discuss the Badger State proposal when it meets Oct. 30 at 8:30 a.m.
Wehmeier also noted the county’s rural broadband initiative is moving forward at an appropriate pace. The hope is that the county can have 75 percent more coverage of the county’s rural areas in the coming years. Collaborations, he said, may be in the works with Dodge County, because needs for broadband overlap the two counties.
Anita Martin of Lake Mills told the board during its budget hearing Tuesday that she hopes the county will be able to fund replacement of one staff member from the land and water department lost to retirement. She said the position is necessary to allow for the continued protection of land and water in the county.
The budget is traditionally approved at the November regular session of the county board.