MON AM News: Alliant starting work this summer on three new solar projects; Delta variant of COVID-19 could threaten communities with low vaccination rates, officials say

— Alliant Energy plans to begin work this summer on three new solar energy projects that were recently approved by the state Public Service Commission. 

The PSC had granted initial approval for these projects and three others in April, though the larger projects needed separate approval due to the size of their generating capacity. Now that all six projects have the final approval of the PSC, Alliant Energy says it’s moving ahead with the projects in Richland, Rock and Wood counties. 

In total, the six approved projects will have capacity for 675 megawatts of solar, and the combined total cost for the projects is estimated at $887 million, a release from the PSC shows. 

The company has also proposed six other solar energy projects in the state that are still going through the PSC’s review process. If all are approved and built, these 12 projects together will add around 1,100 megawatts of solar energy to Wisconsin’s energy grid. That’s enough to power around 300,000 homes, according to a release. 

“It’s a historic day as we move from planning and preparing to constructing our large-scale solar projects,” said David de Leon, president of the Wisconsin Power and Light Company, which is Alliant Energy’s subsidiary in the state. “It’s a smart investment and creates a long-term, sustainable path for cleaner energy that supports our purpose-driven strategy of supporting customers and building strong communities.”

According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, Wisconsin’s solar resources contributed about 4 percent of the state’s renewable net generation in 2020. About 60 percent of the solar power in the state was generated by small-scale solar facilities with less than one megawatt of capacity. 

As of February 2021, the state had 25 utility-scale solar facilities with a combined capacity of 204 megawatts. That’s five times more than in February 2020. The EIA estimates the state will add 730 megawatts of additional solar capacity by the end of 2023. 

Alliant says it’s contracting with Kansas City-based Burns & McDonnell for the three sites on which construction is beginning this summer. 

The Bear Creek project in Richland County will have 50 megawatts of generating capacity and is expected to be completed by late 2022, the release shows. The North Rock project in Rock County is the same size and construction is projected to wrap up by summer 2023. Construction on the 150-megawatt Wood County Project is also expected to finish by late next year. 

Construction on two of the other projects in Sheboygan and Jefferson counties will begin this fall, the release shows. And the final project in Grant County will begin construction in spring 2022. 

See project details: 

See more on the state’s energy profile: 

— State health officials are warning that the more contagious delta variant of COVID-19 could pose a problem in areas of the state with lower vaccination rates. 

Julie Willems Van Dijk, deputy secretary of the state Department of Health Services, says officials are seeing a “doubling” of the percentage of new COVID-19 cases attributed to the delta variant in the past few weeks. Officials had identified 83 cases of the delta variant in the state as of Thursday, the DHS site shows. 

“We’ve seen in India, we’re seeing it in the UK, we are seeing it in southern states right now, and there’s no reason to believe Wisconsin is any different, that that variant won’t take off and have a significant increase in our state as well,” she said Friday during a call with reporters. 

DHS recently began providing more precise information on COVID-19 vaccination rates by school district, municipality and Census tract. Willems Van Dijk pointed to “painfully low” rates of vaccination in urban neighborhoods “with higher social vulnerability.” Plus, she noted that rural parts of the state tend to have lower vaccination rates as well. 

“Those are the places that — let’s be very frank — they are at risk if the delta variant takes hold, which it likely will, in our state,” she said. “Those people are at risk of disease, hospitalization and death. We have a cure for that: it’s called vaccine.” 

DHS Chief Medical Officer Ryan Westergaard explained that because the delta variant is more contagious, it will spread more quickly “at any given level of precaution.” 

Although not all new cases of the virus in the state are being genetically sequenced, many are. Westergaard said those findings suggest the delta variant will soon be responsible for most new cases of the virus in Wisconsin. 

“When we see the same trends that we see in national data and other states, I think we can be pretty confident that the data are painting an accurate picture, which is that the delta strain is becoming the dominant strain,” he said. 

As of Friday, 50.7 percent of Wisconsin’s total population had received at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine and 47.9 percent had been fully vaccinated against the virus. Since the beginning of the pandemic, more than 600,000 cases of the virus have been identified in the state. 

See the DHS page on COVID-19 variants in the state: 

<i>The free daily Health Care Report from and has been covering vaccination rates this week. For more of the most relevant news on the coronavirus outbreak, reports on groundbreaking health research in Wisconsin and links to top stories, sign up here:</i>

— Two central Wisconsin lawmakers are knocking Gov. Tony Evers’ veto of a bill that sought to require his administration to use $65 million in American Rescue Plan Act funds to finance the purchase of two paper mills.

The bill sought to direct the federal money through the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. to finance the purchase of the Verso Paper Mill in Wisconsin Rapids and the Park Falls Pulp and Paper Mill in Park Falls.

Evers wrote in his veto message it wasn’t clear the U.S. The Department of Treasury would permit ARPA funds to be used in that way, and he wanted to use general purpose revenue to finance the loan. He added “ARPA is not a reliable funding source to provide the long-term assistance needed to revive these mills and provide stable jobs to their workers.”

Sen. Pat Testin, R-Stevens Point, argued Evers has the authority to allocate the ARPA funds to help the effort and it’s “past time to act.”

State Rep. Scott Krug, R-Nekoosa, added, “He says that he supports the mill – in theory. There’s nothing theoretical to the harm that he’s doing to the mill workers, loggers, and their families.”

The bill was one of four Evers vetoed last week. He also nixed legislation to: repeal the personal property tax; create a Legislative Human Resources Office; and to allow students to play sports immediately if they transferred because their original school switched to virtual instruction due to COVID-19 rather than sitting out a year under usual WIAA rules.

Evers also signed a dozen bills.

See the guv’s release:

— The UW System Board of Regents has announced that Regent Vice President Karen Walsh will lead a committee to find a new UW System president.

The 19-person search group, appointed by Regent President Edmund Manydeeds III, consists of representatives from 11 out of 13 UW System universities. The group includes five regents, two former regents, three professors, three chancellors, two provosts, three staff and one university foundation officer.

“It’s a very diverse group in terms of areas of expertise. We have people of color on the committee,” Walsh said. “That was done by design.”

The two students on the committee have both served on the Board of Regents and one is currently on the board. Walsh said students, faculty and staff can offer suggestions at listening sessions to be held at each UW System campus starting in September.

See more at 


# Mill bill: Gov. Tony Evers vetoes bill awarding $65 million in federal loans for purchase of two paper mills

# Q&A: Rage Fund founder Anna Gouker turns anger into opportunities for people with disabilities

# Search committee named to find next UW system president



– Supreme Court reverses ruling in Kinnard Farms permit dispute


– The week in bankruptcies: Connor Forest Management LLC.


– WILL sues Milwaukee Public Schools over union leave policy


– Wisconsin wildlife officials worried about bird illness

– Report: Great Lakes region needs about $2B for flood repairs


– Foxconn reports 2020 hiring and spending to state, expects ‘exciting times’


– The Harvard Business School Club of Wisconsin will honor CEOs of health systems

– Wisconsin would receive $65 million in proposed settlement with OxyContin manufacturer


– Former employee sues Findorff, saying she was harassed over her Hispanic heritage, then was retaliated against

– Eau Claire County District Attorney to resign amid sexual harassment investigation


– Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes begins fundraising for a potential U.S. Senate run

– Evers’ vetoes cut additional money for roads, design-build requirements


– NBA Finals a ‘shot in the arm’ for Milwaukee’s hospitality industry


– Milwaukee County Zoo enters next phase with new director, strategic initiatives


– Planning money proposed for streetcar extension to Walker’s Point


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