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Tree harvesting begins to lay way for Saratoga solar utility

Published: Apr. 14, 2021 at 7:35 PM CDT
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SARATOGA, Wis. (WSAW) - Tree harvesting began the second week of April in Saratoga, preparing roughly two square miles of land for a 150-megawatt solar utility. The fields of solar panels will convert enough sun energy to power about 40,000 homes. It will also bring hundreds of thousands of dollars in revenue into the area.

The solar utility will be located in southwest Saratoga, just south of Wisconsin Rapids and Port Edwards near Highways 13 and 73. The land was previously owned by Golden Sands, and was the projected site of its dairy farm expansion. People living in the area fought the farm’s expansion for years, over concerns about possible water contamination as the land sits on sandy soil and its other operations show evidence of contamination in area drinking water.

A utility building will also be built in a separate location in Saratoga to convert the energy into a usable power source. The energy collected will get to the converter using above-ground power lines. The energy will supply customers of Alliant Energy.

Terry Rickaby, the town chair, told NewsChannel 7 he has learned a lot about solar energy over the years of discussion about the project. Many of the questions and concerns he and other residents had were largely around solar power myths.

Groundwater contamination was a big concern, given the history in the area. While the developer, Savion, assured that would not be an issue, well testing around the property will happen regularly to be certain.

Rickaby said he is excited about the project for the area for many reasons, one being that they will be producing and using clean energy. The construction process will also create numerous temporary jobs that Savion said would be filled by local people. In addition, Wisconsin law provides utility aid for host sites.

“We’re going to get $25,000 a year in revenues and the county will get $350,000 a year and it takes down from agriculture land now to solar,” Rickaby said.

He was not sure when that money would come to the town and county, but he expects it will likely be in 2022 after the panels become operational. Where that money will be allocated has not been officially determined or talked about yet, but Rickaby said repairing and maintaining roads will be a likely allocation since they do not get a lot of money from the state to maintain roads.

Savion took over the land, proposing to develop a solar utility in 2018. Over that time, Savion has worked with the town and the county to address questions and concerns. In January of this year, the Wisconsin Public Service Commission unanimously voted to approve the permit.

The utility is ultimately expected to be transferred to Alliant Energy. It anticipates getting verbal approval from PSC to construct the utility, along with five other solar utilities around the state, next week and get the written order in the next month. It is part of the power company’s “Clean Energy Blue Print for Wisconsin,” working to eliminate coal from its power generation by 2040.

To learn more about the Wood County Solar Project, click here.

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