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Large-scale solar farms are spreading, sparking debate over labor practices and land use

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Badger Hollow Solar Farm.jpg

27 News is Digging Deeper into the growing investment into green energy in the state

COBB (WKOW) — Winter might be coming, but there's still plenty growing on wide swath of land in western Iowa County. 

25 acres of that land belongs to Bob Bishop, who said changes over the years in the hog market prompted him to seek new ways to put his land to use. 

Bishop leased out his portion of his land to Invenergy, the Chicago-based developer constructing the Badger Hollow Solar Farm. At 300 megawatts, Badger Hollow will rank among the largest solar farms in Wisconsin. 

For Bishop, who said he proudly bought a hybrid vehicle as his most recent major purchase, the decision was about doing right by the planet while also securing the stability that comes with monthly checks.

"In farming, you don't generally have a contract that says you're going to get paid regularly," Bishop said. "That's not how the markets always work."

Just down the road, Don Leix said he still has his doubts. Leix leased some of his land for wind turbines 20 years ago, and now said he regrets making such a long-term commitment. 

Beyond that, Leix questions whether farmland is the best host for large-scale solar projects.

"Let's save the good land for producing food and fiber for us," he said.

Leix also serves on the Iowa County Board, where he's raised concerns about whether developers and utility companies have done enough to ensure most of jobs building vast solar farms go to Wisconsin workers.

Thursday night at 10, 27 News is digging deeper into the growth of utility-scale solar production, and the questions labor advocates have raised about whether enough of the income generated by these projects is staying in Wisconsin. 

Capitol Bureau Chief