Some are eager to lease their land; others all it ugly

Bob Bishop is a 61-year old farmer living in dairy country in southwestern Wisconsin. Soon, however, the family will stop raising dairy cows because the industry is in trouble. The bishops, who farm in Iowa County, still carry debt from when hog prices tanked in the 1990s.

But a rare opportunity has come the Bishops’ way. For a least a generation, the family could receive double the market rental rate on about 650 acres used for a giant solar electric power project. “This is a good answer for the lagging ag economy. This provides us an excellent-looking future, a very bright future,” Bishop said. That would be renting out about one-third of their land, most of it now used to grow corn and soybeans.

Invenergy’s Badger Hollow Solar Farm is one of the largest solar utility projects planned for cropland anywhere in the country. The 300-megawatt project, which the company says could power about 77,000 homes, is envisioned for 35,000 acres of prime agricultural land. It is dividing the area’s farming community, pitting neighbor against neighbor.

Some residents who vocally oppose the project generally support renewable energy; some of them even have their own solar panels generating power for their rural homes. But because of the size of the project – nearly 5 ½ square miles – they fear the area will become a “solar wasteland”.

This is an opportunity to generate electricity locally, jobs, tax revenue and support local farmers,” said Invenergy’s renewable energy manager, Dan Litchfield. “The project could bring $1.1 million annual tax revenue to the County.”

The panels will face east in the morning and tilt throughout the day to catch the most sun. They will transfer power to machines called inverters to make alternating current compatible with the power grid. Underground collection lines will carry the energy to an overhead line and on to the grid. The project will be visually unobtrusive, and the farm’s inverters would only make a low humming noise, Litchfield said Alan Jewell and Richard Jinkins are farmers who both have long-held family land next to acres to be leased for the solar project. They have joined the formal process at the Public Service Commission to intervene in the Badger Hollow case. They love this countryside for its scenic beauty and feel the solar project would change that.

“This is an ugly, ugly mark on the land,” Jewell said. Why am I having this thrust upon me?”

Jewell said he is for renewable energy, but he thinks it should happen on an individual scale. People like him, who are not part of the project, will live with the down-sides but no benefit, he said.

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Milwaukee Journal Sentinel – Excerpts January 29, 2019