The process for the construction of a large solar farm in Beaver Township moved one step closer after the Planning Commission unanimously recommended approval of an application submitted by Dairyland Power Cooperative for an electrical switchyard. The May 19 meeting was the first meeting of the Planning Commission since October 2021.
Being the first meeting in 2022, new officers were elected. Trinity Johnson was elected chair and Gary Ruskell was elected vice-chairman.
Solar farm background
The seeds for this large solar project were planted about five years ago. The Planning Commission recommended approval of a conditional use permit for a large-scale solar farm to be located in Section 14 of Beaver Township at their January 2021 meeting. Fillmore County Solar Project, LLC, a subsidiary of Savion, LLC presented plans to construct a 45-megawatt solar farm on 558 acres of agricultural land. The site is located a half mile east of Highway 63, bordered on the south by CSAH 44 and on the north by 140th St. (lies between 141st and 151st Avenues).
The large solar array will supply electricity to the power grid and connect to the Midcontinent Independent System Operator, Inc. transmission system. The CUP was unanimously approved by the Fillmore County board at their January 26, 2021, meeting as recommended by the Planning Commission with several conditions. The CUP is valid for three years from date of approval.
Switchyard application public hearing
Jessica Sandry, Dairyland Power, explained that they had acquired five acres, which will be completely surrounded by the solar project, to construct an electrical switchyard. Dairyland Power had submitted an application for a conditional use permit for a new three-breaker switching station to interconnect with the proposed 45 MW Fillmore County Solar Project to the electric distribution grid in Beaver Township.
The switchyard will include infrastructure for the interconnection with the Fillmore County Solar Project. An existing Dairyland 69kV electrical transmission line located along the south side of 140th St. and the north edge of the Fillmore County Solar Project will be routed directly into and back out of the proposed switchyard. Dairyland will be the sole owner of the switchyard. The solar project is anticipated to be operational late in 2023.
County Attorney Brett Corson asked about conditions to be attached to the application. There were no comments from the public.
Zoning Administrator Cristal Adkins said construction may start in the fall. Sandry noted they were still in the design process. The Planning Commission unanimously recommended approval of the CUP with the same time extension and conditions extended to the solar project. The county board will consider the CUP application at their June 7 meeting.
Board of Adjustment
Four variance applications were presented.
Isaac Deters and Antonette Cummings, section 12 of Preston Township, applied for a variance from Section 604.05 (6) of the county zoning ordinance. They want to build a third driveway within one-quarter mile to access CR 12. Adkins explained they have split off five acres for a future building site. There are two driveways on the original parcel; the third requested driveway would also be within one-quarter mile. The ordinance allows for one driveway in a quarter mile and two if the second is for agricultural purposes. Members expressed concerns about the steepness of the hill and of the proposed driveway. There was no comment from the public and the owners were not present. The variance application was unanimously denied.
Josh and Amber Nelson purchased a 4.6-acre old building site, section 26 of Chatfield Township. The township issued a permit to build a dwelling on the property. Fillmore County ordinance requires a 66-foot driveway easement, as does Chatfield Township. Nelson said he didn’t see a need for a 66-foot easement as a 33-foot easement has been in place for many years since the acreage was parceled off. Johnson noted the private roadway off Jasmine Dr. is wide enough for emergency vehicles. He questioned whether a 66-foot easement is necessary. Tom Starken owns the land that the roadway goes through; he explained the driveway has been there for a long time and maintenance of the private roadway has never been an issue. Adkins said there is a perpetual easement recorded to the deed. There were no other comments from the public. The variance allowing for a 33-foot easement was unanimously approved.
Grace and Marcus Ertl, section 24 of Forestville Township, requested a variance from Section 604.05(2)(a) of the county ordinance. Grace said they want to build a wellhouse over the well and pump and add a chicken coop to it. The building is to be 12 feet high. Adkins said the construction of the proposed permanent structure would require a 15-foot variance. The wellhouse will be 58 feet from the centerline of the road (73 feet is required by the ordinance). The variance was unanimously approved.
Dale and Susan Peterson requested variances from required setbacks to construct a replacement septic system. Peterson said the property in Whalan was purchased six months ago and it has been determined that a new septic is needed. The new septic is to be installed exactly where the old septic was. Because of the small lot size, the variances (10 feet to 6 feet from garage for the tank, 20 feet to 5 feet from garage and shed for the drain field, and 20 feet to 5 feet from the property line for the drain field) are necessary. Adkins said there is nowhere else to go. The variances were unanimously approved.