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Grand opening this week for Organic Valley's new Cashton office building

The Organic Valley office building in Cashton is equipped with solar panels that contribute to the buildings exclusively green power supply.

In a quest to become the world’s largest food company to get all its electricity from renewable sources, Organic Valley is planning a major investment in solar electricity that could substantially increase Wisconsin’s solar capacity and reduce electric bills for rural consumers.

A partnership between the La Farge-based cooperative, solar developer OneEnergy Renewables and the Upper Midwest Municipal Energy Group is expected to result in about 29 megawatts of solar capacity in up to a dozen municipal utilities across the Driftless Region.

Organic Valley has pledged to purchase renewable energy credits for 40 percent of that new capacity, which will offset the company’s electricity and subsidize green power for its neighbors.

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George Siemon

Siemon

“Our future demands bold new thinking about our sources of energy, and there is nothing more natural to a farmer than harnessing the power of the sun and the wind,” CEO George Siemon said in a news release. “So our cooperative is committed to achieving 100 percent renewable power, and doing it in partnership with the rural communities where we live and work.”

The nation’s largest cooperative of organic farmers expects to use about 18.9 million kilowatt hours next year at its offices and processing centers. That’s the equivalent of about 2,000 average Wisconsin households.

Organic Valley has solar panels on its buildings in La Farge and Cashton, owns half of a 5-megawatt wind farm, and has invested about $6 million in renewable energy systems over the past six years. But to build something on this scale proved to be impractical, even for a company with $1 billion in annual sales.

“We just don’t have enough roofs or open space to put in that much solar,” said Jonathan Reinbold, head of sustainability for the cooperative. “We realized that this is going to be a bigger lift and the board wasn’t going to be pushing us to spend $20 million in capital.”

Eric Udelhofen, development director for OneEnergy, said the partnership catalyzed a larger scale development than it had originally planned and will allow the municipalities to purchase the electricity for less than what they currently pay.

The terms of the deal were not released, and the participating utilities will not be announced until the contracts are signed, which Udelhofen said he expects to happen later this month. UMMEG is a joint electric power agency representing 15 municipalities, including Cashton, La Farge, Viola, as well as the Minnesota cities of St. Charles and Lanesboro and Forest City, Iowa.

“We wouldn’t do it if we didn’t think it made good economic sense,” said Richard Heinemann, general counsel for UMMEG, whose members band together to buy electricity from Dairyland Power and other power providers. “We’re getting a good price, and we get to feel good about the fact that we’re partnering with a good company.”

With the addition of a planned 5-megawatt garden, Arcadia will get about 30 percent of its energy from renewable sources. Tim Putz, general manager of the municipal utility said the contract will also provide a hedge against rising energy costs.

“Really that’s what we need to look for,” said Arcadia Mayor Rob Reichwin. “We can’t just live with what we’ve previously done. What’s going to the be source not just now but for the next 20 to 25 years.”

In a further nod to sustainability, Organic Valley plans to plant native flowers and grasses around the solar panels to support bees and butterflies.

“We came up with a solution that’s not capital, no operations cost and is beneficial to the entire community in which the systems are located,” Reinbold said.

Founded in 2009, OneEnergy Renewables is a Seattle-based company that has developed solar farms on the east and west coast. Last week Xcel Energy announced it had signed a contract with OneEnergy to build a 1-megawatt community solar garden near Cashton.

OneEnergy has not released the total project cost. Udelhofen said construction is expected to begin in the summer and continue into 2019.

If fully developed, the project would increase Wisconsin’s current solar capacity by more than a third.

The clean energy advocacy group RENEW Wisconsin estimates the state will have roughly 80 megawatts of installed solar capacity by the end of 2017. That includes both consumer-owned rooftop panels and utility-scale projects, such as the 19-megawatts contracted in the last two years by La Crosse-based Dairyland Power Cooperative.

But even with the development, solar would account for less than 1 percent of the state’s 2016 capacity. The two largest technologies, coal and natural gas, account for more than 15,000 megawatts of potential generation.

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Reporter

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

(16) comments

capedcrusader

http://www.startribune.com/u-s-report-says-humans-cause-climate-change-contradicting-top-trump-officials/454997843/

capedcrusader

So now you think I also work for the CIA. Wow. Who else was it? Cassandra and Oldhomey? You are like an old tin can. The harder you get kicked the more noise you make. We will be working our way to more renewable energy in the next several decades. And my hat goes off to the companies like this one willing to start leading the way. Keeping the Renewable Fuel Standard is the right thing to do. By the way, the farmers have an ally in the White House. The last thing Trump wants to do is alienate all those conservative voters. Cleaner fuels and alternative sources of energy are all part of the big picture and we are going to get there.

Buggs Raplin

I was speaking of oldhomey, not you.

oldhomey

I see, Buggs. You reserve the honor of me being a CIA agent only to me. THAT should reassure everybody who reads these posts that you are a reasonable human being who takes positions only based on evidence.

How could ANYBODY not take the following as a serious, sober analysis: "he's an intelligence operative probably in the CIA's thought control division specializing in astroturf techniques. He almost always defends the elite agenda. That's not paranoia; that's from dealing with him the past three or four years. Don't think such creatures exist? Hillary spent over a million dollars on them during the past election."

So am I in the employ in your opinion of the CIA or Hillary Clinton? Hillary must be spending a LOT more than a paltry million bucks to maintain people like me to do her work of the devil as you characterize it in big and small newspapers all over the country, even a year after the end of the presidential elections. Right.

What status quo is the CIA paying me to defend, Buggs? A single payer national healthcare plan? Last I noticed it isn't the the status quo, and I am not sure the CIA would have a position on it. Stronger, saner gun control laws? We don't have strong and sane gun control laws, much as I would like to see them. Are you going to argue that the CIA wants to outlaw bump stocks for semi-automatic rifles so that the agency can America at gunpoint to join a universal, One World communist dictatorship, Buggs? Right.

An end to criminalized drugs to undercut the immense wealth and power of criminal drug cartels and begin to get people to accept treatment and life above ground? I don't think the CIA agrees with me on that, but I don't know anybody in the CIA, so I can't speak with authority on that.

I guess you could make a case that I am evil for defending the use of child vaccines as a 20th century medical miracle that has saved and protected millions of infants and children from death and maiming. I say YOU could make the case, but it is a very silly case that is extremely dangerous as we see new parents doubting the safety of vaccines for their kids because of saps like you. Is the CIA behind vaccines? I wouldn't have a clue.

Do I protect the status quo by accepting the science and scientists behind blaming fossil fuels for the rise of global warming? Is the CIA behind all those scientists whose work and data over the last few decades points to fossil fuels as the culprit, Buggs? Are you telling us the CIA and tens of thousands of scientists are lying in the service of promulgating a carbon tax that might generate a few billion dollars? Are CIA agents and climate scientists going to be the recipients of that money? Is that the motive of their crime? What about the trillions of future profits threatened to fossil fuel companies if and when alternative fuels replace them? Or are you on the Koch payroll like Snow Cougar to protect THEIR status quo?

That's just a few quick thoughts, Buggs, from a slow old man. I would appreciate hearing back from you on this with some detail in confronting each of those points.

capedcrusader

I'd like to hear back from him on this post too. You sure are keeping him busy.

Buggs Raplin

It's infuriating. A gullible will read the headline of this article, and conclude great progress is being made on renewable energy. That's not the case. Reporter Hubbuch at the end of the piece admits renewables don't provide any solution at all for the present time. We are dependent on fossil fuels for survival in the winter; we are dependent on them to provide the electricity that makes our lives comfortable; and we are dependent on them for the gasoline that powers our cars. Without fossil fuels, this country would come to a screeching halt. Havoc would ensue. Lives would be lost. People would suffer immensely. If the company in this article wants to go renewable, that's their business and their stockholder's business, but it seems there is some uncertainty involved. Hey, you don't like my view? What are you doing? Have you solar-powered your house? Have you given up your car? Have you given up red meat? And all for an unproven theory by scientists manipulating the data to scare you into agreeing to a carbon tax.

oldhomey

I will not swear to this as God's own truth, Buggs, because reading annual reports and mathematics are not exactly my strong suits. But in reading Dairyland Power's 2016 annual report, I calculated from the information therein that more than 14 percent of their power now comes from wind and solar, and the company says that is their future, they are building toward more renewable sources as fast as they can. Of course the country would come to a screeching halt if we outlawed fossil fuels suddenly. That is why we are building gradually toward replacing it. If we don't replace it, however, the world and our environment will come to a gradual but no less devastating halt, and a permanent one at that. Perhaps you could address that for us, if you care to enlighten us more on the subject.

Buggs Raplin

This is just more bullshit in the Tribune's crusade for the hoax that is human-caused global warming. The Tribune, it seems, runs a bullshit column on this hoax at least every couple of weeks. Last Sunday, they turned to a teenager on the issue. No doubt the 3 Amigos-Malzer, Sleznikow, and Hatt-have columns readied for the future. And now when the faithful on this religious issue write letters to the editor, you can't criticize them. There are even thoughts by some, of the religionists to jail deniers. Oh, my God, it's the new inquisition based on generating fear, and the arrogant belief that we have to save the planet. What BS.

(Edited by staff.)

oldhomey

No doubt, Buggs. And no doubt you will bring up the same, tired, lame, discredited arguments in the future that you have in the past. I have seen teenagers put up much better, more informed and fact-based arguments than what you continually come up with, Buggs. Whose payroll are YOU on?

Slider

What a bunch of bunk!! When an electron in put on the grid, there is no difference between a coal, gas, or nuclear and a renewable electron.

oldhomey

Isn't it a delight to see how clued-in on the concept of renewables that Slider has become? Now cue in for a fusillade from Buggs about how impossible renewable energy is.

capedcrusader

I can hardly wait. It's all about a carbon tax you know.

Slider

so you go to personal attacks instead of address the issue? What a troll!!

Buggs Raplin

Slider, he's an intelligence operative probably in the CIA's thought control division specializing in astroturf techniques. He almost always defends the elite agenda. That's not paranoia; that's from dealing with him the past three or four years. Don't think such creatures exist? Hillary spent over a million dollars on them during the past election.

capedcrusader

Who are you?

oldhomey

The point, unless I am mistaken, Slider, is not that the electrons are the same whether generated by oil, gas, coal or renewable energy sources. That is a given, of course. The difference is that we are fast using up finite fossil fuels with oil, gas and coal, but in using them we are also causing environmental havoc that is beginning to threaten our existence on this planet. Renewable energy, if we perfect it rapidly, will eliminate our reliance on fossil fuels and save us from environmental disaster. Talking about electrons in this context is not seeing the forest for the trees writ large. Does that address the issue for you more clearly?

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