Xcel Energy announced plans for a new La Crosse area solar project Tuesday, a day after its first solar community garden in Wisconsin came online, and is seriously considering a third such project.

The Minnesota-based utility will partner with OneEnergy Renewables of Seattle to build a 1-megawatt solar garden next year near Cashton after canceling a contract earlier this summer with another developer, Pristine Sun, that missed deadlines while pursuing two sites in La Crosse and Monroe counties.

A similar 1-megawatt garden began generating electricity Monday in Eau Claire. Customers who bought panels in the La Crosse County garden began receiving bill credits in September from a solar installation near the Twin Cities.

Cashton, population 1,102, is also home to a 5-megawatt wind farm jointly owned by Gundersen Health System and Organic Valley.

Xcel issued a request for proposals Monday for a third solar garden in the Ashland/Bayfield area. Spokeswoman Christine Ouellette said about 90 percent of available subscriptions in the first two gardens have been sold.

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Among the larger subscribers is the order of Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration, which expects to generate about 10 percent of the electricity used at St. Rose Convent in La Crosse.

The state’s Public Service Commission last year authorized Xcel to offer up to 3 megawatts of community solar gardens with the stipulation that the costs are borne only by subscribers.

Any of the utility’s 257,000 Wisconsin customers can buy panels in the gardens for $1,780 per kilowatt. In return they will get a credit on their bills for the electricity produced over the next 25 years. According to Xcel’s estimates, residential and small-farm customers can expect to recoup their investments in 16 to 20 years.

After problems with an initial La Crosse County site, Pristine Sun secured a conditional use permit for a 13.4-acre site north of Sparta in the Monroe County town of Little Falls. Pristine Sun later settled on another site in the village of Rockland that is closer to existing transmission lines.

Pristine Sun CEO Troy Helming said in July he would continue to pursue projects at both sites.

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

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