IOWA COUNTY — *Watch Steve Chamraz's full story tonight on TMJ4 News at 10 p.m.*
Between the silos and rusted old windmills about 12 miles west of Dodgeville, in fields that once waved with green stalks of corn and low rows of soybeans, glistening, black solar panels have been planted as far as the eye can see.
A solar "farm" so big you could spend all day driving around its perimeter.
We Energies spokesperson Brendan Conway said they call it “Badger Hollow.”
"This became at the time of its announcement – 300 megawatts – the largest east of the Rockies. And still is one of, if not the largest," Conway said.
When it's complete in 2022, these fields in Iowa County will turn energy from the sun into 300 megawatts of power – enough electricity for 90,000 homes.
With Madison Gas and Electric and Wisconsin Public Service, We Energies leases nearly 2,000 acres of prime farmland to harvest the sun.
Think of Cody Craig as the farmer.
"It's pretty riveting technology turning a clean fuel source being the sunlight and turning that into energy," Craig said.
Cody Craig works for WEC Energy Group, the parent of We Energies.
When Badger Hollow is live, he will help manage the flow of power from here into the grid and across the state.
Corralling power from the sun on days when the sun is doing its best to drive up demand.
"If you think about it from an energy provider perspective, our highest demand comes in those hot summer months when the sun is shining," Craig said.
"Hot humid temperatures, air conditioners are running, sun is shining, we're there to produce power."
As utilities move away from coal it's projects like this that will fill the gap.
Badger Hollow, at peak production, will create nearly as much power as the biggest coal-burning unit at the Oak Creek power plant – with zero emissions.
While the energy from these panels is clean, but it's not constant.
When it's dark, they're not generating electricity.
In December, they generate a lot less than they do in July.
So instead of a silver bullet, We Energies sees the solar farm as more of a piece in the puzzle.
"If you close coal plants, the demand doesn't go away. So that's what this is doing. This will fill the demand from some of the coal plants that have closed and some of the future coal plants that closed," said Brendan Conway.
The first half of Badger Hollow will come on line in the fall.
Harvesting the sky over western Wisconsin to feed the need for power across the state.