Hodag Solar Park is now generating electricity for hundreds of homes in the Rhinelander area
Joel Knutson has been looking forward to this day for a long time now. He’s chair of the Crescent Town Board but didn’t hold the position when the Hodag Solar Park project started.
“At the time I was an enthusiastic resident,” said Knutson.
Knutson loves that his town can play a role in both economic development and in providing renewable resources in the region.
“When you can contribute small scale, big impact projects like this. This is not by any means the largest solar project you’re going to see in the state of Wisconsin, but it will have a substantial impact on our local grid,” he said.
Hodag Solar Park is now operational.
It’s located less than two miles south of Highway 8 on Highway 17, southwest of Lake Julia.
Trees and a small hill make it so the park is not easily seen from 17. Once you go up that hill, long rows of solar panels running North to South fill what was once an empty field.
“It’s nifty when towns can play a role in broader economic development in the region beyond storage units,” said Knutson.
There are 21,000 solar panels on the 50 acres of land.
Hodag Solar Park is capable of producing 7.5 megawatts. It’s enough to power more than 2,000 homes according to Wisconsin Public Service who has now taken ownership of the solar farm built by One Energy.
“It’ll feed into a transformer that feeds into an underground cable and runs over to the east where it connects with the distribution line and goes out into the world,” said Steve Schueller, Senior Supervisor for WPS’s Power Generation-Renewable Resources.
On a mostly sunny but frigid day, Schueller led a small tour of the solar park.
One of the more unique aspects of this solar park is the panels themselves. They’re what’s called bi-facial panels, a newer technology in the solar power industry.
“They not only absorb, they also collect reflected light off the snow. So off of this nice, white surface even when it’s cloudy or they’re not directly at the sun, they will catch reflection off of there. That helps heat the panels. That helps generate more energy,” said Schueller.
Acquiring renewable energy sources like Hodag Solar Park puts them closer that goal.
“That ESG Progress Plan includes adding additional renewable energy facilities as well as retiring older, less efficient fossil fuel generation. Those steps that we’re taking as part of that ESG Progress Plan are expected to save our customers one billion dollars over the next 20 years,” said Matt Cullen, WPS Spokesperson.
It’s not just an economic benefit for WPS customers.
“It’s green energy and it goes directly to our community,” said Oneida County Economic Development Corporation Executive Director Jeff Verdoorn. He was one of the people touring Hodag Solar Park.
Verdoorn said having the solar farm makes the Rhinelander area a more attractive place to live.
“It just makes people want to be here when you have a good source of green energy,” he said.
Knutson agrees, adding that projects like this show WPS’s commitment to the area and to providing more reliable energy.
“This is, I think, a good commitment on WPS that they’re investing in our community and that we’re having these dialogues between local governments and WPS on improving all of these. That fact that we can do it on solar, locally and not importing Wyoming coal is just fantastic,” said Knutson.
Knutson is also excited for what’s to come. Just because the solar park is operational, doesn’t mean the work is done.
Knutson said the Town of Crescent is working with WPS and One Energy to vegetate the entire landscape with pollinator plants.
There’s also been talks of putting in a public gather spot like a gazebo or a small trail.
“It’s really going to be nicely integrated into the community. Not a lot of energy projects do that. You can’t really go up and have a picnic next to most coal plants,” said Knutson.
The Hodag Solar Park is the WPS’s third solar park. The company also owns 100 megawatts of each of the Two Creeks and Badger Hollow solar parks, Wisconsin’s first large-scale solar facilities.