Fitchburg O'Brien solar farm

A 20 megawatt solar farm is being proposed for the farmland on either side of Seminole Highway on the O’Brien brothers farmland. The solar farm would be powerful enough to power half of the homes in Fitchburg.

Madison Gas and Electric, which is looking to operate the largest solar farm in Dane County, has officially applied with the state’s regulatory agency for approval.

In a Monday, May 18, news release Madison Gas and Electric CEO Jeff Keebler announced the application for the 20-megawatt solar farm, which will provide energy to local businesses, public institutions and municipalities including the City of Fitchburg under the MGE’s Renewable Energy Rider program.

“This is an exciting project for our participating customers and for MGE,” Keebler said in the release. “Twenty megawatts of locally generated, cost-effective carbon-free energy on our electric grid will help us achieve our goal of net-zero carbon electricity by 2050 and the sustainability goals of these customers."

Some of those businesses and institutions that will pull energy from the solar farm include the University of Wisconsin-Madison, the state Department of Administration, Promega, Placon and Willy Street Co-op.

The city will receive energy from one of the 250 kilowatt arrays, which equals 1/80th of what the solar farm is expected to produce. The energy from the solar farm will increase the city’s renewable energy usage to 23% of all of its consumption.

“We would like to have done more, but this has been a really popular project,” mayor Aaron Richardson told the Council at the February meeting, where the city passed the MGE contract. “There’s a lot of businesses that are interested in using this energy, which is also a great thing – it just means we can’t take advantage as much as we would have liked to.”

At its January meeting, the Plan Commission approved a permit for the 20 megawatt solar array on nearly 180 acres of agricultural land south of Lacy Road and on either side of Seminole Highway. The solar farm will have 12-foot tall solar panels that adjust to the sun’s movement during the day and will generate enough energy to power 6,300 homes, equivalent to half the City of Fitchburg.

Under the rental agreement, MGE would operate the solar farm on brothers Tom and Pat O’Brien’s land for 35 years, with pollinator plants underneath the arrays. After the rental agreement is up, the land would go back to being used for agriculture.

Other solar farms in Dane County include a 6-megawatt solar farm at Morey Field Airport in Middleton and a 9-megawatt setup at the Dane County Regional Airport. Epic’s 2 MW field on its 900-acre Verona campus was the biggest in the state when it was completed in 2012.

Large solar farms around the state include a 150-megawatt project in Two Rivers near Lake Michigan north of Milwaukee and a 300-megawatt solar farm in Iowa County that together create enough power for 1% of Wisconsin’s households.

The contractors of the project, EDF Renewables, plan to start constructing the solar farm’s first phase starting in spring 2020.

Email reporter Kimberly Wethal at and follow her on Twitter @kimberly_wethal.​