By Neil Johnson - October 25th 2022



Taking shape since August of last year, Alliant Energy’s 473-acre North Rock solar farm is, as of this week, officially ready to pump electricity onto the grid.

The site’s 120,000 black solar panels—technically 360,000 if you consider they collect solar energy on both the top and ground-facing underside—are now operational.

The massive 50-megawatt development spans two different farm properties in the town of Fulton, south of Edgerton. It is one of 12 Alliant Energy solar projects that the electric utility expects to bring online in the next few years.

Others are being built in the vicinity, including the 65-megawatt Paddock solar project in the town of Beloit, and the Albany solar project in Green County.

Some of Alliant’s North Rock plant will be screened from view in the spring and summer by existing tree and crop cover along the hilly countryside that surrounds it.

Size of a small town

But it can’t completely hide.

The fenced-off solar farm is the size of a small town, stretching a mile wide between Hwy. M and West Pomeroy Road. It has its own street signs that denote intersections in an interior network of gravel access roads. They’ll direct Alliant technicians and site contractors who will service the plant and occasionally mow beneath rows of solar panels.

This week, the forecast calls for overcast skies and occasional rain. That won’t stop the panels from collecting solar energy. On Monday, Alliant Energy construction manager Erik Jensen showed during a site tour how a small number of the panels sit tilted at a different angle than others in the sprawling array, doing their job even on overcast days.


Also on Monday, winds were blustery. Jensen said a special gearing system allows the solar panels to rotate independently of their automated sun-tracking systems on windy days, adjusting like weathervanes. This prevents stiff gales from shaking or blowing the panels loose from their frameworks.

Jensen was taking special note Monday of how the automated systems work on a windy day. He said panels that toggle off-track on such days are designed to reset themselves later, but he wanted to see how one actually troubleshoots itself in real-life conditions.

“Solar is still very new to Wisconsin. It almost feels like we (Alliant) are introducing it to the state at some level. There’s just not a ton of people walking around Wisconsin (who’ve) built a bunch of solar,” Jensen said. “There definitely is a learning curve for a lot of people, including us.”

Solar and wind power
Alliant is moving toward a clean energy plan of both solar and wind power that in the next few years could make up about 40% of its total portfolio in Wisconsin, the company reports. The company’s solar projects alone could eventually power up to 300,000 homes in the state.

Counties and towns where plants are located are being promised millions of dollars in state shared revenue from such development, although in exchange solar plants require that expansive swaths of land be taken out of crop production for years or decades.

Fueling the grid

Bill Alt, a senior account manager with Alliant, said the North Rock plant will generate and then funnel out to large nearby transmission lines enough power to serve about 13,000 homes.

But the grid that the power ends up on serves far more than residential users. For that reason, Alt said, people should understand that large solar plants won’t feasibly be utilities’ sole energy source in the future.

Alt said if Janesville’s former General Motors plant, once Alliant’s biggest industrial customer, was still in operation, it would singlehandedly draw off all the power a 470-acre solar plant like North Rock could generate.

“You can interpret that however you want to,”Alt said. “Solar is not the only answer (for clean energy).”

Inside North Rock, the grass planted among the rows of panels is a hybrid that grows slowly and low so it doesn’t often need mowing.

That grass, and native flowering grasses on the acreage to be left open, are part of environmental measure meant to boost pollinators and enrich the soil while the 470 acres is out of crop production for the next 30 years or more, the solar plant’s expected lifetime in operation.

Two landowners who lease the farmland to Alliant are being paid “good money” in exchange for use of their property, Alliant spokesman Tony Palese noted. “It’s more than they’d typically make farming the same land,” Palese said.


The unincorporated berg of Indianford sits near the North Rock plant, around a bend in the Rock River.

From there, some of the eastern expanse of the solar plant is visible, but only from North High Street, atop the highest hill in the little town. And that vista below is a small sea of tilted black solar panels, really only visible now that it’s mid-autumn and the cornfields are bare.

While walking into a restaurant in Indianford, Gail Wilson shrugged his shoulders at the mention of North Rock.

“I’ve got no big thoughts on it. It’s huge,” Wilson said. “Anytime anyone comes from out of town or out of state, we take them to see it. We tell them, you’ve got to go and this solar farm. It’s really interesting.”

View Article Here.