Milwaukee unveils largest solar array in city on landfill near airport

Milwaukee officials unveiled the largest solar array in the city. Photo credit: Mayor Tom Barrett on Twitter

Last updated on March 17th, 2021 at 03:25 pm

Officials from the city of Milwaukee and We Energies on Tuesday unveiled the largest solar project in the city’s history on a former landfill located near Mitchell International Airport.

The 2.25-megawatt installation of more than 7,000 solar panels is located on a 9-acre site just south of the 128th Refueling Wing of the Wisconsin Air National Guard.

We Energies paid for the project costs and actually owns the solar facilities. The project was developed as part of the utility’s Solar Now program, which allows up to 2.25 MW of generation for any one customer.

“This is just one element of our plan to address climate change,” Mayor Tom Barrett said in a tweet. “The Environmental Collaboration Office and other departments are working on energy efficiency, electric vehicles, green infrastructure and solar to prepare for the challenges and opportunities of the 21st century.”

The array provides enough energy to power roughly 500 homes and will help reduce We Energies’ fuel costs. The city will also receive renewable energy credits that go towards its goal of having 25% of its electric load coming from renewable sources by 2025. The common council also set a goal of reducing carbon emissions for the whole community by 40% by 2030.

Erick Schambarger, director of environmental sustainability for Milwaukee, said the city would still need another 13 to 15 MW of renewables to reach the goal just for the electricity used in city buildings.

City officials approved the project early last year, including lease payment to the city that could fund other renewable energy projects. The first year is expected to generate $90,000 in revenue with future revenues determined by how the regional grid operator – Midcontinent Independent System Operator or MISO – values solar.

It is expected to generate around $2 million in revenue for the city of the next 20 years. Schambarger said revenues are already going toward funding city and county research on climate and economic equity. Milwaukee is also looking at the possibility of installing charging stations at libraries and adding electric vehicles to the city fleet.

“This is a really significant step forward,” Schambarger said.

He said another benefit beyond the renewable energy from the project is the use of a landfill that could not have otherwise been redeveloped.

The site did present a constraint since crews could not dig down into the landfill. As a result, the solar panels are fixed instead of titling with the sun.

About a quarter of the landfill was used for the project. Schambarger said the city is talking with We Energies about additional capacity under the utility’s dedicated renewable energy resource pilot program. The airport site would be an option for that, but others are under consideration as well.

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Arthur covers banking and finance and the economy at BizTimes while also leading special projects as an associate editor. He also spent five years covering manufacturing at BizTimes. He previously was managing editor at The Waukesha Freeman. He is a graduate of Carroll University and did graduate coursework at Marquette. A native of southeastern Wisconsin, he is also a nationally certified gymnastics judge and enjoys golf on the weekends.

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