The brownfield at ATI Forged Products’ Cudahy plant offered strong potential but significant challenges as a solar field. At 8 acres, the site offers significant size, limited shade obstruction, and flat land not currently in use, all factors needed for a large solar installation. Not all developers choose to work on brownfields, but in many ways they make optimal sites for photovoltaic (PV) installations. This site is just a mile from the shores of Lake Michigan and the area faces a number of environmental challenges. ATI, We Energies, and SunVest Solar LLC set out to turn this brownfield into something that would benefit the community for generations to come.
Passenger vehicles driven for one year
Homes electricity use for one year
Number of smartphones charged
Tree seedlings grown for 10 years
While the task appeared daunting, SunVest was more than capable of managing the challenge. The solution implemented by SunVest needed to follow strict guidelines set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). We remained attentive to upholding the safety of the surrounding environment throughout the process.
Constructing the Solar Array
First, truckloads of soil had to be carefully removed from the site before construction could commence. This mitigated the chances of contaminate runoff. To confirm that nothing leeched into nearby drainage, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) performed multiple stormwater inspections throughout the installation process. We also installed extensive silt fencing to contain the soil. Due to the site’s proximity to General Mitchell International Airport (MKE), SunVest also needed to obtain approval and documentation from the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).
The array was installed as a standard driven-pile system, where steel posts were pounded through the brownfield into the contaminated soil. Because no posts were removed or soil disturbed, no other remediation was required. Following the installation, all soil ruts were repaired and inspected to ensure the engineered brownfield cap remained intact.
The system installed is made up of 7,125 Trina solar 400-watt panels, spanning 8 acres of land. PV panels are wired together with messenger wire, which electrically grounds the entire array and provides support for CAB Solar hangers to which solar conductors can be attached. Using this type of wiring ensures minimal ground disturbance that could further disrupt contaminants in the land.
From the panels, DC power is directed to combiner boxes, and then to 18 SMA Sunny Highpower Peak 125kW inverters. AC power is routed to a switchboard and disconnect, before being sent to a We Energies-provided transformer.
From Brownfield to Clean Energy
ATI’s new solar field has the potential to power approximately 350 homes with clean energy. On top of this, a hazardous site has been rejuvenated, and given a new purpose.
The Solar Now program was developed by We Energies as part of their initiative to create a net-zero electric generation fleet by 2050. Through Solar Now, We Energies partners with large business, nonprofit, and government customers to host solar panels on roofs and unused land. SunVest has partnered with We Energies to bring this vision to life, and together we have already accomplished more than 30 installations, with many more on the horizon.
On land which was once a brownfield, the sun now shines on solar panels that provide sustainable energy to surrounding neighborhoods. Regarding the development of solar energy for the community, Jim Meudt, President of ATI Forged Products, notes “It’s an important way to support the community we’ve called home for more than 100 years.” We certainly agree.