Via Wisconsin Rapids Tribune:

MADISON – Plans to construct a 150-megawatt solar farm in the town of Saratoga were filed Monday with state utility regulators, beginning a review process the project owner expects to be completed by early next year.

According to the Certification of Public Convenience and Necessity application filed with the Public Service Commission:

The Wood County Solar Project would be built across 1,208 acres with the developer, WCSP LLC, a subsidiary of Kansas-based Savion LLC, holding an option to purchase a total of about 1,800 acres, all from a single property owner.

The project acreage is large enough to accommodate construction of a new substation and potentially a battery storage system.

The solar farm would be bordered on the south by Hillcrest Avenue and Blue Ridge Lane, on the west by Serenity Trail, on the east by Young Street and bisected by Rangeline Road.

A four-mile-long 138-kilovolt transmission line would need to be constructed in order to tie the solar farm into the transmission grid. Construction requires separate PSC approval. American Transmission Co.’s Port Edwards-Sand Lake 138-kilovolt line, near SH 13 and Mill Ave., has the capacity to add a 150-megawatt generating facility without requiring costly upgrades, Savion concluded. About 85 percent of the proposed four-mile power line could be built along existing transmission lines or road right of way

Savion LLC, has 130 projects in operation or development in 25 states. After constructing the Wood County Solar Project, Savion plans to sell the facility to local utility companies that want solar power to replace the generating capacity they will lose after taking some coal-fired power plants out of service.

The solar farm will have about 470,000 individual photovoltaic panels that track the path of the sun to produce direct current. Inverters will change the electricity to alternating current.

It would produce enough electricity to power about 40,000 homes.

Savion chose the site, about five miles south of Wisconsin Rapids, because of the availability of undeveloped land, proximity to transmission lines, a receptive community and a lack of environmental issues.

Much of the project area was logged decades ago and is currently a pine plantation used for timber and pulp production. The tree cover can screen the massive solar array from surrounding properties.

Similar utility project properties are tax exempt, but a state fee that substitutes payments to local governments in lieu of taxes is estimated to generate $350,000 in annual revenue to Wood County and $250,000 annually to the town of Saratoga. The project property is currently enrolled in the Managed Forest Law program, which distributes minimal revenue to local governments and none to area school districts.

Efforts to contact the town of Saratoga and Town Chair Terry Rickaby this week about the proposed solar farm were unsuccessful.

Preliminary studies of cultural and historic sites have identified few constraints and can be avoided by the placement of the solar array. Savion and the town will develop a groundwater monitoring plan prior to construction and continue for five years. Savion is conducting or has committed to various environmental studies including site analysis, endangered resources, wetland delineation, floodplains, traffic, noise and electro-magnetic fields.

Savion’s spokesperson Johnna Quinty wouldn’t disclose the estimated cost to construct the solar project, saying such information was proprietary. She did say that the project is expected to create 300 construction jobs, locally sourced when possible. The CPCN application noted that the project could create three full-time maintenance positions.

Savion will give the town $5,000 to hire a consultant to evaluate the proposed project.

The town retains zoning control over some aspects of the project and is expected to reach a developer’s agreement with Savion regarding restoring town roads damaged during construction and restoring the property to agricultural or other compatible when the project is decommissioned.

Once the PSC deems Savion’s application is complete, it will have a public comment period, hold public hearings and decide the construction request in an open session.

Savion has had the project under consideration since 2018. Its project timetable includes obtaining approvals and permits by late 2020 or early 2021, followed by final design and obtaining easements. Construction would begin in July 2021, completed by September 2022 and the facility would be in service by November 2022.

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