Identification of archaeologically significant areas — such as the sites where Kenosha’s famous mammoths were found — is one of several issues holding up plans for a 1,400-acre solar farm in Paris.
Invenergy, the Chicago-based company with lease options on upward of 5,000 acres west of I-94 and adjacent to Highway 142, was given an extensive pre-application to-do list by the state Department of Natural Resources and Wisconsin Public Service Commission.
Paris town chairman John Holloway said the need to identify any effigy mounds or Native American burial grounds – and ensuring that existing archeological and environmental sensitive areas will not be affected — is delaying the plans.
“They keep pushing back their construction application filing date (with the PSC),” Holloway said. “They’re no longer giving a specific date. They are anticipating it will be this fall.”
The Schaefer and Hebior mammoth sites are located within the overall footprint of the project area, he said.
“If they want to use these sites, they will need to do an extensive archeological survey,” Holloway said.
While delayed, Holloway said representatives from the company — who were not reachable Tuesday for comment — feel there is still enough usable acreage to move forward. However, he anticipated the company will walk away from some areas rather than prove there will be no archaeological impact.
A number of other issues that need to be addressed were also identified in a pre-application meeting with the PSC, Holloway said.
For example, there is a possibility that drainage tiles will be damaged when hundreds of panel-supporting steel poles are driven into the ground.
At a meeting in Paris last year, a representative from the company said it uses a drone with a thermal imaging camera to identify where the drain tile is located prior to the start of construction.
According to the engineering report submitted to the DNR and the PSC, stormwater runoff from the installation will be managed as it is currently, along the western edge of the site toward the Des Plaines River and along the eastern side toward the Root River.
‘Good neighbor’ in Illinois
It is not the company’s first solar farm. It is also the developer of the recently approved Badger Hollow Solar Farm in Iowa County and Grand Ridge Solar in LaSalle County, Ill.
Brian Gift, director of LaSalle County Environmental Services, said the Invenergy solar project there was approved in 2011, prior to the establishment of requirements related to this type of land use.
He said the main opposition to the company’s project had to do with the loss of prime agricultural land.
Gift said there has been some concern about maintenance and control of the weeds on the property.
“Generally, I think they have been a good neighbor,” Gift said of the company. “They try to respond to things quickly.”
Now, drainage tile studies and agricultural mitigation agreements are part of the process in Illinois. Soil is evaluated to determine the quality of farmland being given up. A decommissioning plan is required, and LaSalle County requires the company to put up a decommissioning bond.
Revenue in doubt
Holloway said town and county officials are not sold on Invenergy’s proposal to self-fund the reclamation plan out of revenues.
Initial discussion suggested it would not start setting money aside for this until 15 years into the operation. Invenergy is obtaining 50-year lease agreements for the project, but will sell the solar farm to a utility.
The joint development agreement Invenergy is negotiating with Iowa County spells out road repair obligations and plans by the company to replace any lost property tax revenue.
Under state statute, properties hosting utility-generating facilities are removed from the local tax roll. Instead, local governments will receive utility aid payments through the state’s shared revenue program.
Using this agreement as a basis, it is estimated a 200-megawatt farm in Paris would provide $800,000 in shared revenue annually, $330,000 of which would go to the town.
However, other taxing bodies, such as school districts, are not provided alternative payments to compensate for lost tax revenue.
‘Lost revenue program’
The joint agreement for the 375-megawatt Badger Hollow solar farm establishes a “lost revenue program” to reimburse school districts for lost revenue. It further guarantees the shared revenue amounts if the shared revenue law changes.
As initially proposed, the Paris solar project is expected to produce enough clean, renewable energy to power 55,000 Wisconsin homes per year.
Plans call for construction of a substation on five acres within the project and a 138-kilovolt transmission line to connect to the existing Paris substation.
The 50-megawatt battery proposed to be used in Paris would be the biggest used for this purpose nationwide and the first of its kind in Wisconsin, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.