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'It has split this community': Solar project controversy in Oconto County leads to recall of board members

Controversy over proposed solar farm in Morgan leads to the recall of two town board members
Posted at 9:55 PM, Jul 26, 2022
and last updated 2022-07-26 22:55:43-04

TOWN OF MORGAN (NBC 26) — Over the weekend in Oconto County Town of Morgan, a new chairman and supervisor were sworn into office.

Controversy over proposed solar farm in Morgan leads to the recall of two town board members

That's because two weeks ago former town board members were voted out in a rare recall election.

"This town has always been dear to my heart,” said Fran Wranosky, Former Chairman for the Town of Morgan who was recalled.

Wranosky served as chairman in the Town of Morgan the last 11 years.

This weekend that ended, as he lost in the recall election.

Controversy over proposed solar farm in Morgan leads to the recall of two town board members

“It hurts, it really hurts,” Wranosky said. "I basically lost my job because of the solar.”

A Florida based company, NextEra Energy is considering the construction of a major solar farm in the town.

It could bring in millions of dollars in the next three decades.

But Warnosky said the project and a perceived conflict of interest cost him his job.

"I lived in this area all my life. Our farm is a century farm,” Wranosky said.

He and the other board member recalled signed personal agreements with the company, offering their farmland for the project.

He argues it is not a conflict of interest, because it won't need local approval.

"It be no different if I decided to grow cranberries in the back of my place. It’s a private entity, it’s a private investment by private individuals,”Wranosky said.

Controversy over proposed solar farm in Morgan leads to the recall of two town board members

But some people have issues with the project.

David Behrend is one of the many community members who doesn't support it.

"Did you really help global warming? Did you really prevent global change? No, because you went through and destroyed miles and miles of prime farmland,” said David Behrend, a Morgan resident.

Solar advocates say the soil actually becomes healthier and doesn't need fertilizer to support the vegetation.

"It provides a better habitat for birds or insects and for small wildlife. In general the biological health of the land underneath solar farms improves,” said Michael Vickerman, RENEW Wisconsin.

Controversy over proposed solar farm in Morgan leads to the recall of two town board members

Still, that’s not the only issue some have with the project.

Behrend said he felt the former town board wasn't being transparent.

"People were looking for answers. The answers weren't coming,” Behrend said.

But Wranosky argues otherwise.

"They think that the town board was hiding stuff from them from the solar. We even brought the solar people in twice to talk to them,” Wranosky said.

Controversy over proposed solar farm in Morgan leads to the recall of two town board members

The issue over solar panels has divided what was once a tight knit community.

"It has split this community like you wouldn't believe,” Wranosky said.

"There was no turning the people back,” Behrend said.

Now the challenge in this quiet town is to move forward together.

Ultimately the size of the project is big enough that the decision to move ahead with the project will be made by the Public Service Commission of Wisconsin. 

NBC 26 reached out to the solar company leading the project.

“It is very early in the solar project development process and we continue to assess whether this community is right for a renewable energy project. This includes evaluating existing transmission infrastructure, landowner and county officials’ interest, as well as conducting environmental surveys. It’s important to know that siting a solar project is a multi-year process. When siting a solar project, the right combination of solar conditions, power transmission lines and land all play important roles.

If assessments are favorable, the project would be subject to a state approval process.

Renewable energy projects, like the proposed solar site are attractive to local communities, as they provide numerous economic benefits, including good jobs and the potential for additional tax revenue, which can be used to enhance schools, roads and essential services.”
Naomi Morrison, spokesperson for NextEra Energy Resources