Wisconsin to begin largest solar energy projects in state history

NOW: Wisconsin to begin largest solar energy projects in state history

MILWAUKEE (CBS 58) -- Wisconsin is in the middle of making a historic push toward solar energy.

In the Milwaukee suburbs, solar panels are being installed on the roofs of public buildings, including New Berlin schools.

It ushers in a new era of supporting green energy for the district, and it’s also a new way of making money.

“We’ll be leasing our roofs and some land space to We Energies, and as a result of that we will net some revenue monthly,” said Joe Garza, the school district superintendent. “Certainly those dollars will be reinvested back into our district and opportunities for our students.”

Port Washington is also selling roof space on its public buildings.

Mark Grams, the city administrator, says the leases could make the city $40,000 a year.

“It is becoming more prevalent here in the community, so we just want to be a part of that,” Grams said.

We Energies has made over a dozen of these kinds of arrangements in their new “Solar Now” program, which aims to diversify the utility’s energy sources.

“It’s large scale solar, but we’re doing it in an urban area,” said Brendan Conway, a spokesperson for We Energies. “We avoid having to put in more costly new power plants.”

Conway says a large coal plant in Pleasant Prairie was also able to be shut down as a result of the program.

These projects are steps toward catching Wisconsin up with the rest of the U.S.

The Solar Energy Industries Association ranks Wisconsin the 41st most solar-friendly state.

That’s roughly in line with neighboring Midwest states, except Minnesota which came in at 13th.

The two largest solar projects in state history will start construction soon, including one in Manitowoc County that will involve installing panels on thousands of acres.

Pete Komoroski lives in Two Rivers, and he says the project will surround his property on three sides.

His neighbors are leasing out their land for the panels.

Komoroski says he supports clean, renewable energy, but he believes his property value is about to take a nosedive.

“We just happen to be here, you know?” he said. “There’s nobody else in that predicament the way we are.”

About 1.5 miles from Komoroski’s home is Russel Strutz’s dairy farm.

For him, it’s a matter of business. The panels will be taking the place of crucial farmland his family’s been leasing for decades.

“I’m going to give up 300 acres for the project which is 20 percent of the acreage that I use to feed my cows,” Strutz said. “So it’s got substantial impact.”

Strutz says finding new land will mean going further away, adding to production costs of an already-struggling dairy industry.

“It’s just upsetting that this is the way it’s got to shake out,” he said.

Back in southeast Wisconsin, Conway says We Energies will be asking the Public Service Commission to grant permission to go ahead with more panels, because there are so many municipalities, businesses and school districts that want to rent out their roof space.

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