Extension To Help Communities Plan For Solar

The U.S. Department of Energy awarded UW–Madison Extension a grant for $1 million to support a process that engages communities in siting large-scale renewable energy projects.

The dollars aim to develop and expand statewide initiatives to help local governments plan for large-scale renewable energy developments.

The Wisconsin project is “Renewable Energy Siting and Engagement for Tomorrow” or RESET. Sherrie Gruder and Diane Mayerfeld lead the project. Gruder is an Extension Distinguished Sustainable Design Specialist and Energy Strategist. Mayerfeld is an Extension Sustainable Agriculture Statewide Coordinator.

Gruder says the goal is to move Wisconsin to successful renewable energy development where all stakeholders benefit.

The grant supports a coalition of groups. This includes the Public Service Commission, DNR, Clean Wisconsin, Wisconsin Land & Water, UW-Madison, Oneida Nation, Wisconsin Farmers Union, Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation, Wisconsin Towns Association, and Apex Clean Energy.

The collaborative will develop and update solar and wind guidance and technical resources. It will expand education and outreach. The collaborative will also engage rural and tribal communities to articulate their values. And, it will create developer agreements and other tools to help shape renewable energy projects.

Wisconsin currently has 33 large-scale solar developments (13 with battery storage) in place or under development in 21 counties. All the investor-owned utilities have adopted goals of 100 percent clean (carbon-free) energy by 2050. Interim goals are 40-80 percent renewable capacity or carbon emissions reduction by 2030 as they shut down Wisconsin’s remaining coal plants in the next decade.

Wisconsin law requires developers of renewable energy projects 50 megawatts or larger to compensate local jurisdictions and counties annually per megawatt of installed energy. This generates hundreds of thousands of dollars for communities. Most local governments have not publicly discussed how those funds might be spent. Extension can help communities explore ways to use the funds equitably for long-term community benefit.

Rural areas are most impacted by utility-scale renewable energy development. Wisconsin’s clean energy goal needs about 1 percent of state land (roughly 340,000 acres) in large-scale solar. This is equivalent to 6 percent of Wisconsin cropland in corn and soybeans.