Town says no to solar project in soccer park

Commission denies utility’s bid to install panels on Zaun Field in deal that would have generated annual revenue for school district
By 
MITCH MAERSCH
Ozaukee Press Staff

Plans to build a solar farm on Grafton School District property were nixed by the Town of Grafton Plan Commission last week.

The commission denied a conditional-use permit request for the project proposed for Zaun Field, a soccer facility owned by the district. 

“This could have a significant impact to (neighboring) higher-end residential areas,” Town Planner Amanda Schaefer told the commission during its Wednesday, Dec. 2, meeting. “Staff is concerned about assessed property values, and we need more tangible evidence from the applicant.”

District Supt. Jeff Nelson said We Energies approached the district to lease the northern portion of the field to install ground-base solar panels, a project he said could provide the district with an annual revenue of $30,000 for up to 30 years.

“The district is exploring all options to utilize our land to increase revenue.  At a time in which households are struggling with increasing costs, the opportunity to bring $30,000 a year in revenue to help educate our students without raising taxes is something we need to research further.

“Over the next 20 years, this plan would bring in an additional $600,000 of revenue.  We plan to continue working with the town to bring this to reality.”

The part of the field in question is used for soccer and would have been reduced by 155,000 square feet if the plan was approved. The field is also used by the Grafton Gladiators youth football league team. 

During a public hearing, several residents said they were concerned the reduction in space would compromise the youth programs and could force them to find other fields on which to play.

“This is definitely going to be a negative impact on our kids, the club, soccer in our community and schools,” said Don Arnold, a representative of the Fusion Soccer Club.

Commission member Ryan Peterson said he was concerned about children practicing next to solar panels.

Commission member Patrick Stemper agreed. “I’m not opposed to solar. I’m opposed to the location,” he said. 

Other residents said they opposed the project because of lighting and fencing that could impact their property values.

The commission was expected to table taking action on the project. However, after receiving public input, it decided to deny the permit request from Pewaukee-based SunVest Solar, a company that is a contractor for We Energies.

The commission voted 6-1, with member Dan Vogel dissenting. “Are we really in the business of stopping development or stopping forward progress?” he asked.

We Energies spokesman Brendan Conway told Ozaukee Press it is not unusual for a municipality to turn down initial plans for a solar project, which is a pilot program in its second year. 

“It has to make sense for the customer,” he said. “We are still working with the district for future opportunities.”

District officials also considered using school roofs for solar panels. However, Director of Facilities Jamie Scofield said it could only be done on new roof sections constructed during the district’s $39.9 million referendum project, which was approved in 2017.

In October, School Board President Paul Lorge said that if plans for the Zaun Field project fell through, the district would consider other green-space options on its properties.

Town Chairman Lester Bartel said he isn’t opposed if the district or We Energies comes back with future solar project proposals.

“There is no bias against green-energy applications,” he said. “The right location and situation would likely get positive consideration.”

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