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Dairyland

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.

Two Wisconsin utilities announced projects Wednesday that will roughly double the state’s solar energy generation capacity.

Dairyland Power Cooperative has agreed to purchase power from 12 new solar arrays with a combined capacity of almost 19 megawatts, while Xcel Energy has agreed to purchase up to three megawatts of electricity from community-owned solar gardens in western Wisconsin.

“It’s finally solar’s day in the sun,” said Dairyland CEO Barbara Nick, who said the La Crosse-based utility was motivated by a desire to diversify its power portfolio and meet customer demand.

“It’s fair to say this is something our cooperative members are very interested in,” she said.

Dairyland’s purchase agreements, which the utility estimates will power about 2,500 member homes and farms, drew praise from clean energy advocates.

“Wisconsin’s electric cooperatives are now national and state leaders for solar energy,” said Andy Olsen, senior policy advocate for the Environmental Law & Policy Center in Madison. “Dairyland was clear that this effort grew out of support for solar from their members, commitment to diversifying their generation and stabilizing costs, which are goals of cooperatives across the region.”

Earlier in the day, Xcel Energy announced an agreement to purchase up to three megawatts of electricity from community-owned solar gardens in western Wisconsin, including projects planned in La Crosse and Eau Claire counties.

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.

Xcel has plans to have more than 250 megawatts of solar capacity in Minnesota by the end of 2016 in order to meet mandates of that state’s legislation. The Wisconsin arrays are part of a pilot program approved last year by Wisconsin’s Public Service Commission, which stipulated that it must be cost-neutral for non participants.

The company said it is a response to customer demand.

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

Together, the projects announced Wednesday will add nearly 22 megawatts of direct current capacity in a state where solar advocacy groups estimate current capacity is about 25 megawatts.

“It basically shows 2016 is going to be Wisconsin’s best year yet for solar,” said Tyler Huebner, executive director of Renew Wisconsin, who said the 60 percent drop in prices has made photovoltaic generation cost effective for utilities as well as residents, business and nonprofits.

Solar electric generation in the United States rose 43.4 percent last year, according to the Energy Information Administration, and not just in sun-drenched western states. Minnesota’s solar generation grew by 36 percent, Wisconsin’s by about 18.5 percent. The majority of the growth was in distributed generation, projects owned and operated by private citizens or companies.

But despite the rapid growth of solar energy, coal remains the dominant fuel in Wisconsin, generating more than 61 percent of the state’s electricity in 2014, according to data from the Energy Information Administration. And even with the new projects, solar will account for less than 1 percent of the state’s generating capacity.

Dairyland did not disclose the cost of its purchase agreements or the total cost of the solar arrays, which will be paid for by two private developers, Vermont’s groSolar and SoCore Energy, a Chicago-based subsidiary of Edison International.

But utility officials say the cost is now competitive with other fuels.

John Carr, Dairyland’s vice president of strategic planning, said the additional solar power will replace some of the electricity that Dairyland has purchased on the open market since shuttering the last of five boilers at its Alma plant in 2014.

Nick said the availability of solar resources provides some hedge against future regulation of fossil fuels, which still account for more than 88 percent of Dairyland’s nameplate capacity.

Dairyland last year sought proposals for up to 25 megawatts of photovoltaic generation. Utility spokeswoman Deb Mirasola said the co-op received more than 30 responses with more than 100 proposed alternatives.

Nick said Dairyland is negotiating agreements to purchase additional solar resources.

“You’ll hear more from us,” she said.

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

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Reporter

Rhymes with Lubbock. La Crosse Tribune reporter and data geek. Covers energy, transportation and the environment, among other things.

(13) comments

Rob Danielson

Now is a great time to lobby your DPC coop. One can't tell from this story if DPC is planning to offer coop members a chance to own the panels and maximize member savings as Vernon Electric did with its members or if DPC is thinking of installing a good part of the 19MW as "utility scale" where DPC collects savings over time. Ask your coop for the former: member panel ownership for at least 25 years & solar credit at retail or very close to retail rate.

Lets hope the solar deal Xcel is offering is truly "community-owned," As first described it was not & the credit per kWh offered for solar power considerably below retail rate. Call Xcel and ask them to match or better the Vernon Electric Coop deal.

In all cases, lets hope the solar gardens will be placed to reduce peak load on older substations and prolong their (considerable) values. Used as a "non-transmission alternative," community solar avoids high interest capital debt- the source of soaring electricity costs.

Rob Danielson

Cassandra

It's a start!
I'm actually quite surprised that utilities haven't jumped on the rooftop leasing system pioneered by Solar City. It would guarantee them long-term cash flow, pay for the systems, and they would be able to re-sell all the excess generation.

Machiavelli

Re: "Dairyland, Xcel announce plans to double Wisconsin's solar capacity"

Whoopie wow!!! They'll now have four of those tiny little Menard's backyard solar lights instead of two! It's a great day for the future of alternative energy in Wisconsin!

"We live in a world bathed in 5,000 times more energy than we consume as a species in the year, in the form of solar energy. It's just not in usable form yet." ~ Peter Diamandis

Bideca

Solar does work but yes the oanejs do need to be maintained, just like wind turbines need maintainance too. Milwaukee and Chicago were asked if they'd allow a power plant buuilt between them and the environmentals said no. The power company's tried to build huge wind farms in central Wisconsin and that was blocked so they built out west and there you have it, power lines!!

Frangel45

Too bad they rammed their ill-conceived power line through our beautiful river valley first. ATC must really twisted a lot of arms in their board room to affect their thinking. The power line atrocity is unforgivable! Particularly since we do not benefit from it and end up paying for it. What a snow job!

random annoying bozo

with solar and wind farms come a lot more power lines.

SpiritofThomasPaine

You know nothing.
Solar can link up to existing power lines and actually can reduce the need for massive power lines coming in and thru the State from other States.

If I put panels on my home or barn I can easily connect those to the grid in existence, the same lines that are already there bring power to my buildings.

Frangel45

SpiritofThomasPaine - thank you for clearing that up for another naysayer....

Nastysmell

Night time, snow covered panels, cloudy days - Solar = FAIL.
Wind power is where it is at.

tower

How about both?

Melowese Richardson

On this we agree tower. It doesn't have to be either/or between solar and wind.

SpiritofThomasPaine

derp derp derp

LAX

Fossil fuel = Death

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