At the March 28 Planning Commission, a public hearing was held regarding the proposed replacement language of Section 709, Solar Energy Systems and the added Section 740, Solar Energy Farms.
Zoning Administrator Cristal Adkins explained the commission had decided to retain the existing Wind Energy Conversion Systems language and to address solar systems separately. The commission previously was looking at a more complicated ordinance that would cover essentially all renewal energy systems, which was abandoned because it was too cumbersome.
County Attorney Brett Corson has reviewed the new proposed Solar Energy language.
Justin Kennedy, Beaver Township chairman, asked how a Solar Farm is defined. Answer; Solar Farms are large scale and 40 kW or larger. Kennedy was concerned about the effect of a potential 500 acre solar farm on land values and housing values. Adkins said she has learned from her discussions with other counties that a solar farm seems to have no effect on dwelling and land values.
Scott Rindels, Beaver Township, said his property surrounds property where there has been an effort to acquire land for a solar farm. He asked about weed control. Adkins explained an application for a solar farm will require a public hearing before a conditional use permit (CUP) can be granted. Additional conditions can be placed on the CUP. Speaking to her counterparts in two counties, she was informed that the solar farms are cared for by a full-time maintenance worker.
The area along Highway 44 always will be favorable for large energy systems because of its location near necessary transmission lines. Gary Ruskell commented that the process to get all needed permits for a solar farm is a two-to three-year process. Vegetation management and weed control is included in the language proposed to regulate Solar Farms.
Another concern raised was possible damage to tile lines. Steve Duxbury said it can be a condition of the CUP, that any damage to tile lines will have to be repaired. Kennedy expects he will be asked by others in the township about land and dwelling values. Adkins told him to direct people who have those questions to her office. If there is an application for a CUP, every landowner within a quarter mile of the project area will be notified about the Solar Farm application.
Language was added this day for any solar panels within two miles of an airport, which includes both smaller accessory solar systems and solar farms. The solar panels close to an airport can not penetrate airspace, will need to have a glare study that meets FAA criteria, and must meet airport zoning requirements.
Ruskell noted we have not seen any formal application yet for a solar farm. A motion to send the new language for Section 709, Solar Energy Systems, Accessory (repeals the old Section 709) and the new Section 740, Solar Energy Farms to the county board for their consideration was approved.
Over time, several variances have been approved by the Board of Adjustment for the building of a new dwelling on land with a crop equivalency rating over 65. There has been discussion as to whether the language regulating dwellings in the Ag District should be changed because of the number of variances that have been granted. Discussion has centered on density and whether a new dwelling can be built on cropland.
Adkins checked with six southeast Minnesota counties about their restrictions on building dwellings in the Ag District. She found that Fillmore County is in general the least restrictive. Mower County is the most restrictive as it only allows one dwelling per quarter section, or 160 acres. She suggested that members study the various county restrictions before a future meeting when this issue may again be discussed.
Duxbury reported on a public meeting held in Red Wing on March 25 by the Minnesota Environmental Quality Board (EQB). The purpose of the meeting was to get input from the public over a proposal to study nitrate-contaminated water in southeast Minnesota (karst) area. Duxbury felt it was about 50-50 from the 100-120 people at the meeting that a Generic Environmental Impact Statement should be ordered by the EQB to study nitrate-contaminated water in the karst region. Duxbury said if the study were to be done, many people wanted it to be done by local people, not people from the cities.