Solar farm

Madison Gas and Electric is expanding its solar-farm program. When completed, O’Brien Solar Fields in Fitchburg, Wisconsin, will be the utility’s third-largest solar farm.

FITCHBURG, Wis. – Wisconsin regulators recently authorized Madison Gas and Electric to build a 20-megawatt solar farm in Fitchburg. They also have allowed the utility to expand a program to sell clean energy to industrial and governmental customers.

The Public Service Commission recently voted to approve plans for O’Brien Solar Fields, a 160-acre site near Seminole Highway and Lacy Road in Fitchburg. Construction is expected to begin in 2020. The $31.7 million project could begin operation as early as summer 2021.

Madison Gas and Electric has contracts with the State of Wisconsin, the University of Wisconsin-Madison, the city of Fitchburg and local businesses to buy the project’s energy output. Revenue from the contracts will cover the cost of the project in 30 years while generating a 10.3-percent return on equity, the utility company projects.

The Public Service Commission also authorized Madison Gas and Electric to double its 25-megawatt “renewable energy rider,” which allows the utility company to build clean-energy projects supported by commercial and industrial customers that sign long-term contracts for the energy.

State agencies are buying the power in an effort to meet Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers’ goal of eliminating carbon emissions, said Rebecca Valcq, chairperson of the Public Service Commission.

The expansion will allow for the O’Brien project and about 20 additional megawatts of new generation. That would account for about 10 percent of Madison Gas and Electric's peak demand.

Commissioners agreed there was pent-up demand to justify the expansion but said additional analysis will be needed as such programs continue to grow.

The O’Brien project will be the utility’s third-largest solar farm. Madison Gas and Electric owns one third of the 300-megawatt Badger Hollow solar farm being constructed in Iowa County and a 50-megawatt share of the Two Creeks solar farm in northeastern Wisconsin, which is expected to begin operation later this year.

The utility company in July completed a 5-megawatt solar installation that provides power for customers in the program as well as the city of Middleton and the Middleton-Cross Plains School District. Construction is underway on a 9-megawatt project at the Dane County Regional Airport. It will provide electricity to Dane County government buildings.

Chris Hubbuch covers energy and the environment for the Wisconsin State Journal.