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La Crosse-based electric utility Dairyland Power Cooperative announced Monday it will buy all the energy produced at the Badger State Solar Project site, a proposed solar farm in Jefferson County.

The solar farm, developed by Ranger Power, would generate 149 MW of electricity — enough to power 20,000 homes each year. The project awaits approval, though a 2020 construction start date and 2022 operational date has been planned.

“Dairyland is excited to collaborate with Ranger Power on this sustainable solar energy facility,” said Barbara Nick, Dairyland president and CEO, in a press statement. “Resource diversification is foundational to Dairyland’s commitment to a sustainable, future-facing power supply.”

Wisconsin relies on fossil fuels for much of its electricity. In 2017, coal-fired power plants produced 55 percent of the state’s electricity, according to data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration. Less than 10 percent came from renewable sources, including hydroelectric power, wind and solar.

At the end of February, Gov. Tony Evers proposed in his state budget that utilities switch to net-zero power generation by 2050. Minnesota governor Tim Walz unveiled a similar plan less than a week later that allows utilities to set their own pace for reaching carbon-free energy generation by 2050. Minnesota has already met its goal to generate 25 percent of its energy from renewables by 2025.

In December, Minneapolis-based Xcel Energy, which provides electricity to about 3.6 million customers, including about 250,000 customers in western Wisconsin, became the first major U.S. utility to commit to going completely carbon-free by 2050.

Platte River Power Authority responded not long after by announcing it would eliminate all carbon emission by 2030, while companies including Alliant and Madison Gas & Electric pledged to limit carbon emissions 80 percent by 2050.

The Badger State Solar Project power purchase agreement would increase Dairyland’s solar portfolio, which currently consists of 18 solar sites that provide 25 MW total, by almost seven-fold.

Dairyland has about 1,350 MW of owned and contracted capacity from all sources, including coal, natural gas, hydro, wind, solar, and landfill gas, said Dairyland spokesperson Katie Thomson.

The electric co-op has also filed an application with the Wisconsin Public Service Commission for a proposed 550 MW natural gas plant in Superior that it would jointly own with Minnesota Power.

According to Dairyland’s 2017 annual report, 69 percent of Dairyland’s energy came from fossil fuels, while renewables made up 22 percent of their energy portfolio. Dairyland said in that same report that in 2027, 70 percent of its capacity would come from coal and natural gas and 23 percent from wind, solar and other renewables.

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Jennifer Lu is the La Crosse Tribune environmental reporter. You can reach her by phone at 608-791-8217 and by email jennifer.lu@lee.net.

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