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UW–Madison supports largest solar development in Dane County

October 16, 2020 By Nathan Jandl

The University of Wisconsin–Madison will purchase half of the energy produced by the largest solar generation facility in Dane County — a 20-megawatt solar array that Madison Gas and Electric will build in Fitchburg in partnership with EDF Renewables. MGE received approval for the project from the Public Service Commission of Wisconsin on Oct. 1.

Located on the O’Brien family farm at the corner of Lacy Road and South Seminole Highway, the O’Brien Solar Fields will provide locally generated solar energy to businesses, municipalities and public institutions under MGE’s Renewable Energy Rider. The UW System Board of Regents approved UW–Madison’s participation in the RER program in February.

The O’Brien Solar Fields will feature 60,000 bifacial solar panels on approximately 160 acres and will provide an opportunity for students and faculty to engage in research and take field trips. Energy from the solar array will account for approximately 5 percent of UW–Madison’s electricity use.

“Investing in local renewable energy, as opposed to simply purchasing renewable energy certificates, reflects our commitment to supporting our community as we seek to become a more sustainable institution,” says Missy Nergard, director of sustainability at UW–Madison.

Supporting cost-effective clean energy also builds on Chancellor Rebecca Blank’s decision to sign the Second Nature Resilience Commitment. “By repurposing farmland for the solar array and creating a shared, educational space in our community, we are also celebrating the connection between sustainability and the Wisconsin Idea,” Blank says.

MGE will own, operate and maintain the O’Brien Solar Fields. In addition to UW–Madison, the utility will partner with the City of Fitchburg, Placon, Promega Corporation, Tribe 9 Foods, Willy Street Co-op, and the Wisconsin Department of Administration on the project.

Construction is expected to begin this year, with the project going online by early 2021.

Location map of solar array project