Wood County looks into solar initiatives
By City Times staff
WISCONSIN RAPIDS – Wood County will explore two projects that could make it a forerunner in solar initiatives across the state.
Two separate projects were brought forward to the county’s executive committee, through funding appropriated in the current budget.
“There were two separate funds established during last year’s budget process, and they were for renewable and sustainables and they were for lean efficiency projects,” explained County Board Chair Doug Machon. “There was $25,000 appropriated in each of those funds.”
Machon said that funds were established in a manner that department heads would come to forward to the executive committee with concepts and the committee would award money out of one of the funds for the project.
The first fund was designated for energy efficiencies and infrastructural initiatives, while the lean fund is dedicated toward improving processes. “Anything that would lead to synergies or efficiencies, or symbiotic relationships or things like that,” Machon said.
As the county began to seek Sol Smart certification, one of the requirements was to establish a renewable and sustainable committee. At that point, a committee was formed and is now implemented in bringing projects forward to the executive committee regarding these funds.
The Wood County Renewable & Sustainable committee is made up of Chairman Reuben Van Tassel; Nancy Turyk, UW-Extension community educator; Sue Knuferman, Wood County health officer; and Wood County Board Supervisors Jake Hahn, and Bill Leichtnam.
At the Sept. 3 meeting of the Wood County Executive Committee, the Renewable & Sustainable Committee brought two projects forward – a solar car-charging station at the courthouse and a Nepco solar project.
While the executive committee unanimously voted to move forward and explore the feasibility of the solar-charging station at the courthouse, the Nepco solar project was kicked back to the Highway Infrastructure & Recreation Committee.
“The proposal puts the (solar) array in a park, which would be under the purview of the HIRC committee,” Machon said. “So, we are certainly not going okay to have something put in the parks department, when it is their business. So, we kicked that out as a committee. We said, ‘Yes, we like the idea, but we are not going to do anything until HIRC gets a shot at it and looks at it.’”
Committee member, Bill Leichtnam said that the Renewable & Sustainable committee selected Nepco Lake for its high exposure.
“It was visibility,” Supervisor Leichtnam said during the meeting. “We looked at the four sites. Nepco was the smallest (and) it was also the most visible, so to send a message to our greater Wood County communities, we thought that was the right location.
“The other thing that I’ve looked at, and I don’t know if the rest of the committee has, is Dane County is the only county that is doing anything substantive with solar right now. Wouldn’t it be wonderful in the middle of the state if Wood County took the initiative and did some of the things that you are hearing about now.”
Chairman Machon added that the array could be of great benefit in cases such as the severe weather that the Wisconsin Rapids community experienced in July.
“We just went through a major climate storm that wreaked havoc on the city – a lot of people were left without power,” Machon said. “We had to open up shelters right away so people could refrigerate drugs, recharge CPAPs, any other kind of personal devices. Some people only have a cell phone now. Those things were critical that they get power in some way, shape, or form to people.
“If we went the extra step at Nepco Lake, we could take it off the grid. We are not tied to power companies, so that we have solar generation there with battery storage. We become an option for opening up as a shelter – as a respite center for people that are in need during a storm event.”
Machon added that it could be just a starting point for developing resources around the county.
“If we do that at Nepco Lake, then we have to do the same thing in Marshfield and other communities around the county.”