Solar field an ‘eyesore’ but prairie plan praised

One town commission member concerned about look of installation on Zaun Field, another likes goal of restoring native plants species
Ozaukee Press staff

What started with a nuisance complaint filed by an official about the solar panel array on Grafton School District land at Zaun Field ended with praise for plans for the land from one Town of Grafton Plan Commission member last week.

“The Zaun solar array is an eyesore right now,” plan commission member Patrick Stemper wrote in an Aug. 23 email to Commission Chairman Lester Bartel, who is also the town chairman. “All the grass that used to be in between the panels is dead. There are rampant weeds growing all over, some 5 feet high. The silt fence is still up.

“I think the time has come that we get the School District to live up to what the Plan Commission intended that solar array to look like.”

John Daugherty, vice president of project development for SunVest Solar Inc., which constructed and will maintain the solar field for We Energies, didn’t necessarily disagree with Stemper’s assessment of the property but told the commission during its Sept. 7 meeting that the company is in the early stages of returning the land to its natural habitat.

“Right now it does look unsightly,” Daugherty said. “But once the native species (of plants) are established, it will just need periodic maintenance.”

Zaun Field on River Bend Road in the town is home to club soccer and football fields, and the solar field was built on an area of turf grass, Daugherty said.

That grass has been killed and three “weed elimination events” are planned. Then native plant species  can be planted to create a prairie around the solar panels, he said.

While some plan commission members seemed satisfied with the plan as long as there is continuous progress at the site, member Dan Vogel was enthusiastic about it.

“I’ve actually planted a lot of prairies,” he said. “This (the solar field prairie plan) is better for the future. This is a great idea. The planet is burning up. We don’t have time to mow grass.”

The solar field proved controversial when it was proposed by the School District, whose request for a conditional use permit for the project was tabled by the Plan Commission in April 2021 after residents who live near the land said they were concerned about the impact it would have on their property values.

But a month later, after additional work was done on a plan to create a buffer between the solar panels and area houses, the commission granted the permit.

“We want to be good neighbors working with the commission and the neighbors,” School Supt. Jeff Nelson said at the time.

The district has planted more than 100 trees around the solar field to shield neighbors from it.

The 30-year lease agreement the district has with We Energies is worth $900,000.



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