Town Sues Utility Regulators Over Solar Farm Approval

By B.N. Frank

A growing number of Americans are trying to keep solar farms from being built in their communities (see 1, 2).  This now includes residents of Madison, WI.


Dane County town sues regulators over Cambridge solar plant approval

Chris Hubbuch | Wisconsin State Journal

A southeastern Dane County community is suing Wisconsin utility regulators in an effort to block what would be the state’s largest solar farm yet.

The town of Christiana is asking the courts to reverse the Public Service Commission’s approval of the Koshkonong Solar Energy Center, which would produce enough electricity to power about a third of the county’s homes.

The town argues the PSC wrongly approved a project that violates the state Constitution, lacked an adequate environmental review and was presented under false pretenses, among other deficiencies.

The 2,400-acre project west of Cambridge would unreasonably interfere with orderly land use and development plans and would adversely affect public health, as well as amenities such as “views, historic sites, geological formations, the aesthetics of land and water and recreational use,” according to a petition filed in Dane County Circuit Court.

The PSC voted 2-0 in April to allow Chicago-based Invenergy to build the 465-megawatt solar-plus-storage facility, which would be the largest in the state and the first industrial-scale solar plant in Dane County.

Three utilities, including We Energies and Madison Gas and Electric, are seeking approval to purchase the project for $649 million as part of their plans to replace coal-fired power plants with carbon-free generation.

A PSC spokesperson declined to comment on the petition, citing agency policy. However, the commission addressed many of the challenges — brought up during the course of the proceedings — in a final written order issued May 5.

The town argues the commission should not have granted Invenergy a permit to operate a “merchant” wholesale plant when the company plans to turn it over to regulated utilities.

(Video – see article link above)

Under state law, unregulated companies like Invenergy don’t have to justify the need or cost of a project or show that it is the most cost effective solution, while utilities like MGE, which pass on the costs, with interest, to their ratepayers, are held to a higher standard.

The commission says it followed the law as it’s written.

“The fact that a project may be acquired by a public utility at some point in the future does not transform the project into a non-merchant plant,” the order states. “To the extent that certain intervenors find fault with this framework, their argument is with the Legislature and not with the Commission.”

Opponents also argue the developer’s lease agreements with participating landowners violate a provision of the state Constitution that limits long-term leases on farmland.

The commission dismissed the challenge, which they said was based on a misreading of the 174-year-old document and failed to consider existing laws and court rulings.

“The intervenors’ filings reflect a lack of diligence in researching the Wisconsin Constitution and applicable case law, and are unsupported by legal authority,” the order states.

With about 1,235 residents, the town would receive more than $250,000 a year in utility aid revenue from the plant.

The project sparked fierce opposition from neighbors, the surrounding town of Christiana, the Cambridge School District and the village of Cambridge, as well as activists who have fought other utility projects across southern Wisconsin.

‘A sobering report’: Grid monitor warns of blackouts amid growing demand, shrinking supply

Other industry experts say the situation is not as dire as it seems and note that Wisconsin, along with Minnesota and Iowa, have capacity to spare.

Supporters, including the Sierra Club, Clean Wisconsin and Dane County sustainability groups, argued the project is needed to complete the swift transition to clean energy that the world’s climate scientists say will be necessary to slow climate change, and the impacts of solar panels pale in comparison to the alternative.

The commission found the impacts were “unfortunate but a necessary result” of maintaining reliable electricity service with clean energy.

Over the years, there have been many complaints made about solar panels including that they are they are not eco-friendly or cost effective and they create and emit harmful electromagnetic radiation.  In the case of Tesla solar panels, some of them are also catching fire (see 1, 2, 3).

California solar mandates have received much criticism too – at least among Californians who aren’t in the solar industry.

Activist Post reports regularly about solar energy and unsafe technology.  For more information, visit our archives.

Image: Pixabay

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