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.

The creation of one of the county’s largest solar farms was approved last month.

At its Jan. 21 meeting, the Plan Commission approved a permit for a 20 megawatt solar array on almost 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, Madison Gas and Electric 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 6MW solar farm at Morey Field Airport in Middleton and a 9 MW 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.

Initially, the Agriculture and Rural Affairs Committee was concerned about water runoff, but the planting of the pollinator-type plants with long roots and a reserved space at the corner of Lacy and Seminole for a retention area alleviated that concern.

The project received strong support at the public hearing, with six people speaking in support of the project and others submitting comments stating their desire to see the project move forward.

Pat O’Brien said he’s proud to be a part of the project, and is glad to know that his family’s land will stay in the family for a fifth generation.

“We’ve been excited right from the start that this project was going to be on our farm,” he said. “I like to think that maybe another step in being innovative, like our family has been, right from the start.”

Email reporter Kimberly Wethal at kimberly.wethal@wcinet.com and follow her on Twitter @kimberly_wethal.