Solar farm may take root in Paris farmland

PARIS — More than 1,000 acres of agricultural land in the town of Paris may be used to harness solar energy rather than to harvest crops by the year 2021.

Invenergy LLC is moving forward with plans to lease roughly 1,400 acres of land for a solar farm, Robert Howard, a development manager with the company, said Tuesday.

“We have about 1,300 acres signed to date,” Howard said of existing land contracts.

Howard, who discussed the concept with the public at a Plan Commission meeting, said Invenergy plans to submit an application for a 200 megawatt solar operation to the Public Service Commission for approval in 2019.

While the state issues the permit, Howard said the company plans to work with landowners, the town and Kenosha County “to make sure everyone is comfortable with the project.”

Howard said the solar farm has several benefits.

For example, it will produce enough clean energy for 50,000 homes, will not use water, produce emissions or emit odor. The low-profile panels will allow native vegetation to be established that will improve water quality, improve soil conditions and attract pollinators to increase neighboring farm productivity.

It is not the first solar farm the company, founded in 2001, has developed. It ultimately would be sold, and the leases transferred, to a utility.

Landowners who have signed leases get a smaller payment during the design and construction period and a larger amount when the farm is operational. Those amounts are confidential, Howard said.

Invenergy currently has an application before the PSC for a 2,200-acre solar farm in Iowa County.

Plan Commission chairman John Holloway said this is a benefit to the town and Kenosha County as many of the same concerns raised here are being addressed during that permitting process.

Will replace lost tax revenue

Howard provided copies of a Joint Development agreement the company is negotiating with Iowa County and the towns there that spells out road repair obligations and plans by the company to replace any lost property tax revenue.

Under state statute, properties hosting utility-generating facilities are removed from the local tax roll. Instead, local governments will receive utility aid payments through the state shared revenue program.

Howard said it is estimated the 200 megawatt farm will provide $800,000 in shared revenue annually, $330,000 of which would go to the town of Paris.

However, other taxing bodies, such as school districts, are not provided alternative payments to compensate for lost tax revenue.

The joint agreement for the 375 megawatt Badger Hollow solar farm in Iowa County established a “lost revenue program” to reimburse school districts for lost revenue. It further guarantees the shared revenue amounts if the shared revenue law changes.

Damaged drainage title to be replaced

One of the concerns raised by residents had to do with the destruction of drain tiles on the leased properties.

Howard confirmed drain tiles would be broken as distribution pipe was installed underground. However, the company uses a drone with a thermal imaging camera to identify where the drain tile is located prior to the start of construction. Any tile that is damaged, is immediately replaced.

Another resident was concerned about the potential for property to be taken by eminent domain. Howard said the company does not have eminent domain rights.

Invenergy will hold open house informational meetings as plans progress, Howard said.