Local energy companies, City of Eau Claire explore solar power options

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EAU CLAIRE, Wis. (WEAU)- Two local power companies are considering looking to the sun for energy.

Eau Claire Energy Cooperative, The City of Eau Claire and Xcel Energy are weighing the costs right now when it comes to building what's known as solar-farms or solar gardens in an effort to cut down on carbon emissions.

Both of these plans would fall in line with the Obama Administrations regulations to cut carbon emissions in the future. Those regulations would cut carbon emissions by 30% by the year 2030.

“It's a 122 unit building and hot water is a major component of what we have to provide,” Eau Claire Housing Authority Director Keith Johnathan said.

Just in time for summer, the Eau Claire Housing Authority is getting its first taste of savings thanks to the power of the sun. More than two dozen solar panels that sit on top of the Park Tower Apartments in Downtown Eau Claire. The building houses more than 122 low income residents that fall below the 80% federal poverty level. Now, thanks to energy from the sun and a $138-thousand investment the Housing Authority will be saving big on hot water heating costs for years to come.

“What we are looking at is about half of our expense on the hot water heat will be saved,” Johnathan said.

The housing authority isn’t the only one looking to go green and cut carbon emissions. For the past two years the City of Eau Claire has been working closely with researchers on a plan to turn the former SkyPark Landfill on Eau Claire's south side into a solar farm.

“We would be turning something that's a brown field in to a bright field. We can do the right thing with emissions and clean energy,” Eau Claire Associate City Planner Ned Noel said.

Noel says the SkyPark plan is still in the very early stages and they've been in touch with Xcel energy, the provider for the city of Eau Claire. Early numbers show the 23-acre plot of land could power around 400 homes.

In Eau Claire County, Eau Claire Energy Cooperative already has its plot of land for a proposed solar garden already picked- behind their facility just east of the city.

“Many of our customers are interested in solar and we've seen a trend in solar with the price coming down quite a big deal,” CEO Lynn Thompson said.

Thompson says the proposed solar garden is also still in the planning phase, but the five acres they have available could power as many as 120 homes.

“When you look at the size of field we are looking at here it's a small step but it’s an alternative source of energy,” Thompson said.

Eau Claire Energy Co-op says its plan still needs to be approved by its board of directors. If approved it could be constructed as early as next summer.

As for the plan for a solar farm at the former SkypPark landfill, the City of Eau Claire says there is no specific timeline. City Planner Ned Noel says the city might be looking to the public to get feedback before a plan would go further.

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