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Dairyland Power Cooperative President and CEO Barb Nick earlier this year announces Dairyland has finalized agreements with two developers to purchase more than 15 megawatts of solar energy from multiple new solar facilities in Wisconsin.


Using nature to help generate power isn’t exactly a new idea.

These days, when you factor in regulatory and environmental concerns and stir in the debate about climate change, all of a sudden it’s a fascinating — and sometimes frustrating — debate.

But two utilities in western Wisconsin have announced a significant investment in harnessing solar energy to generate power — and they’ve done it the old-fashioned way.

They’ve made the decision because it makes good business sense.

For the people of our region — from energy users to ratepayers — this is good news all around.

Barbara Nick, CEO of La Crosse-based Dairyland Power Cooperative, said: “It’s finally solar’s day in the sun.”

Projects announced recently by Dairyland and Xcel Energy will nearly double the capacity to generate solar energy in Wisconsin:

  • Dairyland will purchase power from 12 new solar arrays with a combined capacity of almost 19 megawatts.
  • Xcel will purchase up to three megawatts of electricity from community-owned solar gardens in western Wisconsin.

Investing in and developing natural sources of energy — and reducing reliance on fossil fuel — is the right strategy for the future.

As Nick pointed out, members of her cooperative believe it’s a good idea — and it certainly diversifies the cooperative’s portfolio.

Tyler Huebner, executive director of Renew Wisconsin, says 2016 will be Wisconsin’s year in the sun — in part because a drop in prices has made photovoltaic generation cost-effective for utilities as well as residents, business and nonprofits.

So, what does it mean when a utility like Dairyland adds a capacity of 19 megawatts? That can power the homes and farms of about 2,500 members of the cooperative.

It also means that Dairyland can reduce the amount of energy it buys on the open market — something it has had to do more of since it shut down five coal-fired boilers at its plant in Alma in 2014 as part of its agreement to settle a pollution case with the Environmental Protection Agency.

The moves by Xcel and Dairyland also demonstrate that “Wisconsin’s electric cooperatives are now national and state leaders in solar energy,” said Andy Olsen, senior policy advocate for the Environmental Law & Policy Center in Madison.

As part of its recently announced plans, Xcel will purchase energy from community-owned solar gardens in western Wisconsin — including in La Crosse County. Those two gardens, to be built by Pristine Sun, a San Francisco-based developer, will double the current capacity of utility-sponsored community solar projects in Wisconsin.

That will double the amount of energy generated by utility-sponsored community solar projects in Wisconsin.

In Minnesota, Xcel is ramping up solar generation to more than 250 megawatts of capacity to meet legislative requirements.

Minnesota just announced 21 percent of its energy comes from renewable sources, putting the state on course to meet its standard of 25 percent by 2025. Wisconsin has already met a more modest target of 10 percent by 2015.

In Wisconsin, the utility’s solar projects are part of a pilot program approved last year by the Public Service Commission with the stipulation that it be cost-neutral for the people who are not participating in the project.

As at Dairyland, the company said it is a response to customer demand.

Lee Gabler, Xcel’s senior director of customer strategy, said: “Customers are looking for different options. We want to provide those options.”

Answering customer demand for solar energy is a good strategy.

And, with today’s technology, it’s also good business.

It’s a bright idea for our region.

And, as Nick said, there’s more to come.

Stay tuned.

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(24) comments


Redwall - If you want to be taken seriously stop commenting.


If you want to be taken seriously loose the over sized hipster eyeglasses.


Followers like Ms Nick are why your electric rates continue to increase at 10X the rate of inflation and why we have those ugly new powerlines.


Climate, Solar America would beg to differ with you.


It's smart, especially for smaller energy suppliers and cooperatives to actually offer incentives themselves so existing customers can help the cooperatives 'grid' supply it's own energy rather than rely on energy transported from out of state by megalithic electric towers. And for energy suppliers who produce their own energy getting their consumers to add solar and wind on their own property and to the grid will prevent them from having to build new and highly expensive and regulated fossil fuel burning (coal) energy production plants.

Space Stations, martian Rovers, military outposts and hospitals all depend on reliable. US military bases are among the leaders in solar energy installation. Why must Wisconsin follow from behind and how have we allowed Minnesota to crush us in this field?


Solar is extremely reliable and because it has NO MOVING PARTS is very maintenance free, don't let Koch-heads lie to you. Panels installed today can last 30 years.....after 5-7 years they pay for themselves and then you get 25 years of money producing power production. Solar gives all Americans a far greater bit of energy independence than fossil fuels ever could because YOU can own a part of the actual energy production....your own little(or large) power plants.

Huge leaps in battery/energy storage will soon make solar and wind far more viable for 24-7 energy consumption....

Fossil hate these alternative energy sources because they'll lose literally hundreds of millions of their daily consumers.


I don't know where you live but a co-worker of mine investigated solar power for his house, he found out we don't have enough hours of sun to be feasible. Solar is not the answer, wind is also not reliable. Imagine sitting down after a hard days work to watch the news and find out the sun didn't shine today so you have to sit in the dark, or you have no heat because it wasn't windy. Just not practical. Wind turbines wear out bespfore they're paid for. I like gas,coal and oil, nice and dependable, comfortable, easy, cheap, convenient, what's not to like?


Lacrosse is nearly on the same Latitude as ROME....
Your 'co-worker" who "investigated solar power for his house" sounds like a standard Fossil Fuel industry Cut and paste nonsense reply.

Of course we have enough Sun, and wind. Germany is just as North as we are and they don't seem to have trouble cranking up the Solar energy production.

You know NOTHING of which you speak on this topic......


Why don't American companies jump on the bandwagon and expand new ideas and technology anymore? Tesla can't build their electric cars fast enough to keep up with demand, and Ford, GM and Chrysler are ignoring that market completely. I don't get it. Even if they don't care about the environment, don't they care about the new business if they'd jump on the band wagon? Same goes for renewable energy sources. Get in the program, America.


I've heard of Tesla but I have a question, are they 100% electric? How does the battery get charged? If it needs to be plugged into an electrical out let it really is a coal powered car because coal produces most of our electric. Personally I would rather breath the exhaust of a gas car versus a coal fired power plant.


I agree that solar is the way of the future. The "altruism" of these utilities' moves might be more believeable if they hadn't lobbied for changing the rate structure to disadvantage home solar and if they were paying a net meter rate rather than a wholesale rate for the planned solar gardens. That payback period is terrible! I think as the cost of solar contiues to plummet, as home size batteries come on the market, and as better efficiency reduces people's energy needs, they are afraid people are going to cut the cord altogether. That's my goal.


What difference at this point does it make. We all must die of something. China and other countries seem to be unconcerned, I suspect because they know they are not getting on board and these little white masks they wear will be manufactured by them, creating millions of jobs once they create enough pollution. The ingenuity of these folks is nothing but amazing, talk about job creators.


Right, new2. You and I realistically will be dead probably in the next 20 years or so. So why should we worry about global warming and burning cheap fossil fuels? Anything to make life as cheap as possible until we're gone, and to heck with our children and grandchildren. They can pay the Chinese for those little white masks. I mean, it might take 20 years or so to really perfect a dynamic system of solar power, and if it was perfected in the U.S., it is a technology our corporate gods would send to China to be made cheaply, so what is the difference if our children and grand children buy Chinese cloth masks or Chinese solar energy technology? I thank you for figuring all of this out for me, and I suspect hundreds of other readers here. We'll be dead soon enough, but we'll have maximized our money on the way to our graves. No wonder that Fortune 300 company paid you, a lowly HR man, so much money that you are, as you say, now one of the nation's elites.

Union Man

off grid cabins are sweet...4-80 watt sharp. 5-100 watt renogy, Morningstar controller and inverter's and better things to do

Union Man

look at it as supplemental, then again, there's always those who will drink all the water rather than save some to prime the pump!


I'd be interested to read what you've done to (save some to prime the pump). I know many people who profess to be environmentally friendly only to SEE they don't really walk the walk.


2dogs, thank you for bringing common sense to this conversation. Some people can't face reality.


"Some people can't face reality." You mean like climate change deniers?


Spoken like a true oil investor.


Solar and wind have long been a boondoggle that have taxpayers paying billions of dollars to hand picked companies that have failed. Much like ethenol, this is is another feel good idea with disregard to the actual concequenses. This article makes it sound like the utility companies have a choice in using renewable energy instead of being mandated to do so. As someone who has been around solar and wind technologies, you suddenly understand the short comings of these system, the cost, the long return on investment, and the maintenance costs far and away take any benifits from these systems away. Utility companies are forced to due this due to do-Gooder politicians who have little to no understanding of the cost to benefit ratio. We will never be able to totally run our power system on renewable energy as there isn't enough acreage available for wind and solar to meet demand. Renewable is, and will continue to be, an expensive novelty, who's costs will be passed onto the consumer by utility companies.


Your avatar proves who you really speak for. Every word of that comment is a lie.


Well, it's good to see Koch Industries has hired such an articulate defender like 2dogs, almost the equal in persuasive powers as new2. I take it 2dogs still is heavily invested in the buggy whip and typewriter ink ribbon industries.


Isn't that what they said about color TV in the 1960s and computers and cell phones in the 80's and 90's? LET US NOT MAKE PROGRESS, MY FELLOW COUNTRYMEN


2dogs - I have a stock tip for you, buy Peabody Energy! If you are right, this is a sure bet!

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