Residents frustrated after approval of new Dane County solar project

The Koshkonong Solar Project will be the largest in the state, but residents are frustrated that their voices were not heard

TOWN OF CHRISTIANA, Wis. — Residents are left with little recourse after what they say was a frustrating approval process for the Koshkonong Solar Project by the state’s Public Service Commission.

The PSC approved plans for the project, which will become the state’s largest solar project, last Thursday. The 300-megawatt facility could power an estimated 60,000 homes.

The 4,600 acres of land the solar panels will be housed on are currently primarily used as farmland. The plans approved by the PSC will have the facility butt right up against the property line of residential properties.

READ MORE: Koshkonong Solar Energy Center page

“They can put it right on the property because that’s their determined setback,” said Tara Vasby, a property owner next to the proposed facility. “The PSC has just simply agreed with it.”

Vasby said the plans proposed by the Chicago-based Invenergy allocate a certain distance from her property that is the closest the panels can come to her house, but they set the distance based on her house — not the property line itself.

For another nearby couple, Sharon and Lowell Lund, their house will sit at the intersection of underground power lines that will link the solar panels together. They are worried about the safety of having the underground lines so close to their house.

“We’re not against solar panels in the proper space, but with the safety of all these wires around our house, for us, for our children and our children and for the people that live here after us,” Sharon Lund said.

Lowell Lund said he was also concerned about the use of the land for the future.

“I farmed over 50 years and my theory was we raise foods to feed the people in the world,” he said. “Now we’re taking top ag land and putting it into panels. I don’t think it makes sense at all.”

Map of solar project

Sharon and Lowell Lund show on a map where power lines for the Koshkonong solar project will be buried April 11, 2022.

More than providing more renewable energy, switching the land from farming to solar panels could have additional environmental benefits according to Paul Mathewson, staff scientist for Clean Wisconsin.

“Instead of having a continually disturbed land where you have these nutrient inputs for growing the crops… a solar farm will greatly reduce that runoff of nutrients by not having the inputs in the first place,” he said.

Part of the plan for the solar project includes planting cover crops underneath the solar panels, which Mathewson said will also help prevent runoff into local waterways.

For its part, the PSC said it heard thorough testimony during the approval process. Addressing the concerns of residents who said they were not heard, commission spokesperson Matthew Sweeney said:

“The Commission has a robust public participation component to our proceedings.  All of the public comments and testimony on the project is part of the official record on which the Commission must base their decision.

“The Commissioners read all of the comments and take the entirety of the record into consideration when determining if the project is in the public interest.  Just because the Commissioners didn’t reach the decision that some wanted, doesn’t mean their comments were not heard or considered.”