In my backyard: Neighbors speak out to support the Koshkonong Solar Energy Center

Deerfield resident Andrew Little steps outside on a sunny fall afternoon to take in the view from his backyard—a vast cornfield that sits just behind his property. Weeks after the harvest, the field is mostly an expanse of dark brown mud. But despite the lackluster view, Andrew can’t stop smiling.

“I just became a grandfather today,” he says. “Just a couple hours ago.”

The news has him thinking about the future, and what that muddy field could someday become. If approved by the Public Service Commission, it will be the site of one of the largest solar farms in Wisconsin, one that would power a quarter of the homes in Dane County with clean energy. The project will also generate $1.2 million in local tax revenue every year.

For Andrew, it’s a glimpse into the safe, healthy future that we need to start building now.

“We can’t keep kicking the ball down the road. We’ve got to take personal responsibility. I have to be responsible for the future for my kids and now my grandkids,” he says. There are things that we really need to do in the world, and to me, it’s cool that it’s going to happen here.”

Andrew admits the enormity of the climate crisis can make people feel powerless, unable to see how they can make a difference. That’s why he’s so enthusiastic about the Koshkonong Solar project taking shape right in his own backyard.

“This is within our power. We can do this thing right here and begin to make a change. The energy we need is going to be generated here, used here. And that will circulate within the local economy,” he says. “I think it’s something people in this area should be very proud of. We’re going to start to change the world one solar panel at a time.”

“A dream come true”

Down the road in Cambridge, Duane and Tina Hinchley spend long days working their family dairy farm, as one by one, other longtime dairies in the area have quietly shut down.

“In 2019, Wisconsin lost 818 family dairy farms. We’re a family dairy farm. This is so desperate in these times,” Tina says. She points to falling prices amid the COVID-19 pandemic as one reason why the past two years have been particularly tough.

Tina Hinchley and her husband, Duane, work on their family dairy farm in Cambridge, Wis.

For the Hinchleys, Koshkonog Solar will be a much-needed lifeline. The family plans to lease part of their farmland for the project, and the reliable income will help keep the rest of their farm afloat.

“It’s basically a dream come for us financially to be able to have the burdens lifted with this opportunity. We’re still going to have land available, and with that, we will still continue being able to farm our dairy,” she explains.

Tina says the solar farm will help Wisconsin catch up with other states in the movement toward clean energy.

Hinchley's Dairy Farm, Cambridge, Wis.

“I do believe Wisconsin is moving forward—on Wisconsin! We went out to some other locations (in other states) where there have been solar panels out there for years, even decades. It’s time for us to step forward, so that we can progress with the rest of the nation, so we can do our part,” she says.

Like Andrew, just gazing out on those empty fields has Tina looking forward to the future.

“I think it’s going to be exciting,” she says. “We’re going to be looking out there, and we’re going to say ‘This is the next stage of our family farm.’”

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The Public Service Commission (PSC) is currently reviewing this project, which has been the focus of some vocal opposition. Your support is needed and can make a difference! The PSC is holding public hearings via Zoom on Thursday, January 20th at 2:00 pm and at 6:00 pm. Emailed comments will be accepted by the PSC until January 24th.