Superior council OKs solar project permit

Councilors debated the level of detail needed to approve a renewable energy project.
A rendering of the planned solar garden at North 28th Street and Hammond Avenue in Superior. (Photo courtesy of Superior Water, Light and Power)
Contributed / Superior Water, Light and Power

The Superior City Council narrowly approved a special-use permit that will allow Superior Water, Light and Power to construct a solar garden on North 28th Street.

Councilors split 6-4 to approve the permit after a motion to postpone the decision failed. Councilors Brent Fennessey, Craig Sutherland, Keith Kern and Jack Sweeney wanted to send the measure back to the city's plan commission to get more details on the project's overall look.

“I sit on the plan commission, and initially, I think we missed an opportunity,” Fennessey said. “I think what was missed was getting further clarification on aesthetics of what the project would look like. The special-use permit we’re voting on tonight doesn’t clarify what kind of trees, how many trees, what kinds of plants and landscaping they’ll have incorporated in the plan. It isn’t clear what kind of lighting.”

Fennessey proposed sending the permit back to the plan commission for further clarification.

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According to the special-use permit, landscaping on the site would include restoring native species and adding a pollinator habitat surrounded by a 5-foot tall, black-coated chain link fence. Specific plants and numbers are not identified, but the permit noted that SWL&P hopes to partner with the bee program at the University of Wisconsin-Superior to design and study the project.

“Superior Water, Light and Power wants this project to be a success just as much as the city does,” said Joscelyn Skandel, the utility's manager for the project.

Fennessey said he doesn’t doubt the company’s intent, but believes the project needs to be better defined.

“I just prefer that we take half-a-step back and have a broader conversation, a deeper conversation about the aesthetics,” Fennessey said.

Mayor Jim Paine said he didn’t believe it was fair to ask for permit changes since the project meets the requirements for the special-use permit.

“Their budget has been approved by the Public Service Commission, and they are not allowed to deviate from that budget,” Paine said. “If we impose extra detail on the project, that could impose extra cost … the entire project might fail.”

Councilors Nicholas Ledin, Jenny Van Sickle, Warren Bender, Tylor Elm, Ruth Ludwig and Esther Dalbec voted in favor of the special-use permit.


Dalbec said it’s another case of “not in my back yard,” and she couldn’t agree with that because the solar garden is a good idea.

Bender, who represents the district, said he received calls from constituents, but said he was in favor of the project.

“I think this is the way to go; I think this is the way to move forward,” he said.

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