Wisconsin town pushes back on 300 MW solar plus BESS system

Lawyers for the town of Christiana, Wisconsin–whose 1,300 residents live around 30 minutes southeast of the state capital of Madison–filed a lawsuit in late May seeking to overturn a regulatory decision approving a $650 million, 300 MW solar facility and 165 MW battery storage system being developed by Chicago-based Invenergy.

The Koshkonong plant was authorized as a merchant generator, which limited regulatory review. Plans call for the sale of the solar facility to Madison Gas and Electric and to WEC Energy Group utilities. This proposed transaction is covered by a separate regulatory filing. The sale price includes $412million (or $1.373/kW) for a solar facility and $237million (or $1.436/kW for a battery story system).

Invenergy contracted for 4,600 acres with landowners to construct the approximately 2,300-acre solar farm in Christiana and Deerfield in Dane County. Construction will begin later this year and be in-service by May 31, 2024, according to plans. Invenergy Services would manage the facility.

In May, regulators determined that the solar facility falls under a section in Wisconsin’s administrative code that limits its review. They do not require an environmental analysis (EA) or an environmental impact report (EIS). The commission stated that the proposal was made by an independent power producer. It does not review the cost or need of the project. It stated that the cost of Wisconsin utilities would be examined in the separate project sale proceeding.

The battery energy storage system (BESS), falls under a different section of state code. This leads regulators to prepare an EA in order to evaluate the location and potential environmental, community and private property impacts. 

The town alleged that approval for the Koshkonong Solar Project was not granted properly, partly because the plant would not be used as a commercial facility. The lawsuit claims that approval would have adverse environmental effects and counteract local development authority and planning authority.

The lawsuit alleged that “The facility design, location, and route are not in the public interest considering alternative sources of supply, alternative locations or routes, including alternatives the Commission failed to develop, in violation of its non-discretionary duties, and by the individual hardships, engineering, economic, safety, reliability, and environmental burdens imposed by the Project.”

Local media said that some residents objected to the project’s proximity to homes and an elementary school. Others expressed concerns about the plant’s potential to create stray voltage or the batteries sparking fires.

Michael Vickerman, policy director for RENEW Wisconsin, was quoted as saying that concerns about stray voltage were “a red herring.”

“This lawsuit is the result of a couple of individuals and Town of Christiana government that just don’t like solar on agricultural land,” Vickerman was quoted as saying. “That’s all it comes down to.”