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WI uses grant to help 'clear the air' on renewable projects

Solar panels on a roof
bilanol - stock.adobe.com
Solar panels on a roof

Wisconsin's clean-energy portfolio is growing. Communities seeing the transition happen at their doorstep might get benefits, but sometimes have questions about the scope of these projects. A new grant could help deliver the facts.

The University of Wisconsin-Madison Extension has received a $1 million federal grant to educate towns and cities about large-scale solar, wind and similar development in their areas. Under state law, projects of at least 100 megawatts don't need local approval.

Sherrie Gruder, the extension's sustainable design specialist and energy strategist, said the outreach strikes a balance between boosting the clean-energy transition and factoring in local feedback from community interests.

"Looking at endangered species in the area - will they be protected - to what happens to the water in the wells when the land isn't being farmed for that time?" she said.

Gruder said they'll also use the listening sessions to help dispel misinformation about renewable energy. Also, residents can learn about the economic benefits that trickle down to their government, creating discussions about how to spend that revenue. This type of engagement comes as hundreds of locally adopted restrictions for wind and solar development surface around the United States.

Gruder said another important form of guidance is tips on lease agreements between landowners and project developers. She noted that they want these individuals to be able to ask the right questions.

"Not all farmers are going to spend $300 to $500 an hour to talk with an attorney," she added, "but we could help educate them on that type of thing."

A coalition of Wisconsin organizations will assist with the outreach. According to the extension, the Badger State currently has 33 large-scale solar developments in place or under development in 21 counties.

Mike Moen is a radio news reporter with nearly two decades of experience in the field. He has covered much of the upper Midwest, including Minnesota, Illinois, Wisconsin and the Dakotas. Many of his stories have aired nationally, including several public radio programs.
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