County Marks Earth Week by Seeking Partners to Build Biggest Solar Field in Region; Unveils New Analysis Showing Dane County on Verge of Achieving 100% Renewable Status
Dane County has begun exploration of developing what would be the second biggest solar project in the state of Wisconsin, County Executive Joe Parisi announced today. To mark Earth Week, the County Executive requested the Dane County Regional Airport enter into an agreement with a firm to seek partners and evaluate the feasibility of developing 30 acres of airport owned land into a large scale solar field. The project would have the ability to generate over 6 megawatts of power, almost three times more than the largest solar project currently operating in the region, a 2.25 megawatt facility in Beloit.
“The future is now when it comes to generating clean, renewable, homegrown energy and I’m committed to Dane County leading the way,” Parisi said. “Given its role in sustaining and growing our local economy, we think the Dane County Regional Airport is a perfect fit for this bold project.”
After evaluating the feasibility of this large scale solar development, which includes securing the proper approvals from the Federal Aviation Administration, the company being hired to lead this study for the county will then initiate the process to solicit proposals from prospective solar developers.
“Consistent with how we do much of our good work in county government, a project of this scale will take partners and we think given the values of our community, a number of interested entities will step forward to be a part of this historic effort,” Parisi said.
The Dane County Regional Airport is the latest in an across the board expansion of solar power for county government initiated by Parisi’s 2017 budget. He included over $2 million in the 2017 budget for solar generating capacity at the Alliant Energy Center and the Dane County Job Center with additional money available for the new home of the Dane County Library Service, the former Blooming Grove Fire Department Station.
Even before considering what’s being evaluated for the airport, the new systems set to go online this year will more than triple county government’s total solar energy production portfolio and result in Dane County operations being 100% sustainable. That is, the county is generating as much renewable energy as it uses. The new solar projects will reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 777 tons, reducing direct energy costs by over $2.1 million over the next two decades. The new Dane County East District Highway Garage that opened last year has well over 800 solar panels and is the largest municipally-owned solar project in the state.
“Going bold on solar ensures county government can both save tax dollars in the coming years, but also sets the right tone for the kind of self-sustaining projects we hope more public and private partners will consider in the midst of this climate change world,” Parisi said.
According to a new analysis, in 2016, the County paid utilities for using 35.3 million kilowatt-hours (kwhrs) of electricity while it produced 34.6 million kwhrs of renewable electricity at its two landfills and existing solar projects. That resulted in an outstanding 98% renewable energy ranking, a number that will only improve as new projects funded in the Executive’s 2017 budget come online this year.
“Achieving 100% sustainability is an incredible accomplishment that reflects the priority we as a county have placed on being good stewards of our air, land, and waters,” Parisi said. “Increasing our use of renewable homegrown electricity not only reduces climate change emissions, but saves taxpayer dollars.”
This year marks the 20th anniversary of Dane County producing renewable electricity from biogas created by waste at the county landfill. Instead of wasting the gas by flaring it off, the County has been putting it to good use by piping the gas through engines that turn generators to produce electricity. The clean electricity is purchased by MGE and powers 4,500 homes. The county has also ran a smaller landfill to renewable gas project at its old Verona landfill for the past two decades. That electricity powers the County’s Badger Prairie Health Care Center and the excess is purchased by Alliant Energy.
In addition to helping Dane County achieve nearly 100% renewable status, the two landfills since 1998 have earned over $35 million for taxpayers by utilities purchasing the renewable electricity. The County’s total renewable power generation reduces CO2 emissions the equivalent of taking over 5,200 cars off the road.
The recently completed clean energy analysis does not include the renewable electricity being produced by the two manure digesters Dane County was a partner in developing thanks to state grant funds. The Middleton-area digester owned by Gundersen Health System and the Waunakee-area digester owned by Clean Fuel Partners produce a combined 26 million kwhrs annually. The landfills and digesters together produce a total of 60 million kwhrs of renewable electricity each year or a renewable electricity amount of 170% of what the County uses.
In addition to renewable gas generation, the County offsets its current electricity use by solar generation at 12 sites.