RACINE — The city is proposing to lease out 2.64 acres of land at Olsen Prairie Park, 3444 S. Memorial Drive, to We Energies for a 600 killowatt solar farm.
The initiative is through We Energies’ Solar Now pilot program. According to the terms of the proposed agreement, We Energies would own all the solar capacity and in return the city would receive about $2,000 per month for an estimated $26,151 per year.
The agreement also states that We Energies would be responsible for the design, permitting, construction and upkeep of the system.
The lifetime of the lease is 30 years.
The proposed agreement was to be discussed at the Finance and Personnel Committee on Monday evening and is to be discussed by the city’s Board of Park, Recreation and Cultural Services at 5:15 p.m. Wednesday at the City Hall Annex, 800 Center St., Room 130.
In his 2020 budget address, Mayor Cory Mason mentioned a partnership with We Energies’ Solar Now program to create solar panel arrays within the city headed by Cara Pratt, the city’s sustainability and conservation coordinator.
Pratt said that Olsen was pretty low on the list the city compiled of potential sites for the array because of the prairie restoration work being done on the site.
Julie Kinzelman, Racine Health Department laboratory director, said Olsen Prairie Park is a former brownfield site, meaning it was previously developed, fell into disuse and was potentially contaminated by pollution. Years ago the city turned it into approximately 22 acres of prairie restoration.
So when We Energies chose Olsen as its main candidate, Kinzelman said they chose an area of the park with less high-quality prairie. Pratt said the agreement before the committees and council would authorize the city to further negotiate the terms of the project, which she wants to include provisions to minimize the environmental impact on the site, maintain prairie grass around the array and include signage about the importance of prairie grass and solar.
“What we’re doing now is not developing it into a new development but to maintain it as a prairie and a wetland available to the public,” said Kinzelman. “If it’s done right it could enhance our ability to do environmental education opportunities on the site.”
Pratt, who is employed by the Racine Water and Wastewater utilities, splits her time between the utilities and City Hall projects and has been part of an initiative to measure the city’s energy consumption so it can be reduced going forward.
Last year, Pratt worked with SolSmart, a national program that works pro bono with communities to cut red tape and streamline solar applications, to review the city’s ordinances to make them more conducive to private solar panel ownership.