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Solar farms may be coming to Paris

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US NEWS ENV-CLEANENERGY-WILDLIFE 3 AT

Farmer Donald Chase, right, leases land on his Oglethorpe, Ga., farm for solar farms. Reports are circulating that some farmers in the town of Paris are being approached to lease their land for solar farms.

Solar farms in the town of Paris could replace the coal-fired plant in Pleasant Prairie as a source of local power.

Paris Plan Commission chairman John Holloway said two private companies began talking to landowners last year about leasing large tracts of land for solar farms.

“They need 700 acres of land to generate 100 megawatts of power per year,” Holloway said. “It is a good-size footprint.”

Holloway said the town has about 35 640-acre “sections” of farmland. The companies are primarily approaching landowners in close proximity to the We Energies substation at 172nd Avenue and Highway KR.

“We have a fair amount of questions,” Holloway said. “We are tying to gather as much information as possible.”

Holloway will lead the Town Board in discussion about solar farms at a meeting set for 7 p.m. today in the Town Hall, 16607 Burlington Road.

It is a discussion taking place statewide, said Tyler Huebner, executive director of Renew Wisconsin.

“In Wisconsin we have no coal or gas,” Huebner said. “But those are the two primary ways we make power.”

That could change. We Energies announced late last year it will shut down its coal-fired plant in Pleasant Prairie and plans to develop 350 megawatts of solar power by 2020.

“We have about 80 megawatts in the state right now,” Huebner said. “Three-fourths of that is on rooftops. Another quarter is from large solar panels in western Wisconsin fields.”

Solar technology has improved to the point that solar panels make more economic sense in Wisconsin, he said. “It is just as sunny here as anywhere in the Midwest,” Huebner said, adding there are solar projects being considered across the state.

Holloway said the companies have discussed long-term leases with the landowners — upward of 25 to 30 years.

“They don’t buy the land,” he said. “They are offering attractive lease rates.”

Holloway said if a company can generate 100 megawatts of power, it does not need to seek any local approval.

“It would go directly to the Public Service Commission,” Holloway said.

Some of the questions being raised are whether a solar farm is defined as an agricultural use and what it will do to property value.

According to the Renew Wisconsin website, the non-profit is working to expand the number of large-scale solar projects with the goal of replacing the state’s aging power plants with clean, renewable energy.

The organization says it supports a voluntary pollinator-friendly standard that allows bees, birds and soil to thrive at solar farms.

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