At the January 14 meeting of the Fillmore County Planning Commission, a public hearing was held to discuss the conditional use permit application for a large solar farm in Beaver Township. Due to COVID, many residents participated via Webex or phone. Some chose to participate in person.
As this was the first meeting of the year, officer elections were the first order of business. Gary Ruskell was elected chairman and Trinity Thompson was elected vice-chairman. Meetings will usually be held on the third Thursday of the month.
Mark Mauersberger, development director for the applicant Fillmore County Solar Project, LLC which is a subsidiary of Savion, LLC, explained the project had its beginnings in 2017. The plan is to construct a 45 megawatt (MW) Solar Farm on 558 acres of agricultural ground located in section 14 of Beaver Township. The Solar Farm is expected to produce enough electricity to power 12,000 homes. The project area is located about a half mile east of Highway 63. It is bordered on the south by CSAH 44 and 140th St. on the north and lies between 141st and 151st Avenues. Current landowners of the project area are the Dettmer Farm Trust, Sandra Eickhoff, and Barbara Ressler.
The large scale solar array will supply electricity to the power grid and connect to the Midcontinent Independent System Operator, Inc. (MISO) transmission system.
A motion was made and approved to accept the Findings of Facts and conclusions.
A preliminary site development plan has been submitted. The plan shows the project limits and setbacks. Mauersberger noted the tax revenue produced during 30 years of operation would be about $3.8 million, or about $125,000 per year. Commercial operation could begin in 2023. He added there are no significant environmental issues with the planned project.
Mauersberger showed the proposed design of the solar farm and noted the setbacks from the ditch and the generous setback from the residence to the south. Vegetation is to be low lying deep rooted plants, grasses and flowers. The life of the project is 25-40 years. After which, the land can be returned to agricultural use.
Emma Tajchman, Savion, said the CUP would be approved with a conceptual plan and there could be changes in the final plan. Duane Bakke asked if there is fencing around the entire project. Mauersberger said there will be security fencing around all structures. Fencing will be set back 25 feet from the ditch and panels will be set back 60 feet from the ditch.
Bakke said the application is well done and complete and fits into our comprehensive plan.
Scott Rindels explained he had farm land on all sides of the project area. His major concern was drainage. He said he would like to see a large non-perforated tile main along the waterway to avoid problems with plugged tile and standing water in the future. This is a very flat area. He also was concerned about weed control.
Justin Kennedy, Beaver Township Supervisor, said he had a lot of the same concerns. He said he was concerned about water running down to his farm and weed issues. For the township, he expressed concern about fences on the east side of the project which could cause snow drifts on the north/south road.
Ed Dahl, who lives northwest of the project area, agreed water could become an issue. He termed his main issue as social. He said the project location is due to its proximity to transmission lines. All landowners who have agreed to participate with the project are non-resident landowners. The fact that no resident landowners were interested shows me the project has no support.
Mauersberger commented on the issue of weed control; we usually conform to the herbicides used on a neighboring property. Weeds will be controlled and there will only be very targeted use of herbicides to prevent the spreading of weeds to surrounding properties.
Tajchman said we will be required to get a stormwater permit prior to construction, which will address the concerns voiced by Rindels. Bakke said the stormwater permit is for the construction period. Mauersberger said we do have detailed tile maps and a subcontractor on call. Josh Crumpler, civil engineer for Savion, said he hears the concerns expressed by the surrounding landowners about water coming off the project site and going on to adjacent properties. When the final configuration is designed we would like to meet with adjacent parties to alleviate these concerns. We don’t want standing water on the site.
Rindels again suggested installing the big non-perforated tile line following the waterway to avoid problems in the future. Zoning Administrator Cristal Adkins said we will get the best maps to identify existing tile lines. Nobody wants flooding or ponding. Ressler farm manager Reed Kuper said it is easy to remedy the problem; install a different main in there and it will alleviate most of the problems.
Mauersberger stressed, “We do know where the tile lines are located. Before building we will go to the county with the building array.” Crumpler said, “We will overlay tile maps and the building array to make sure there will be no issues with standing water.”
CUP with eight conditions
County Attorney Brett Corson reviewed proposed conditions to be attached to the CUP. The following is abbreviated language for the eight conditions:
1) CUP and all conditions and restrictions run with the land and are transferable to the successor.
2) CUP will remain valid for the life of the project, so long as construction commences within 36 months of the county’s approval of the CUP and remains in compliance with these conditions of approval.
3) Applicant shall submit to the county a final site plan with the application for building permits.
4) Identification of the location of tile lines is required prior to construction and repair of damaged tile is required during construction and for the life of project.
5) Management of noxious weeds on the project site and tree control in the drainage ditch is required to the satisfaction of the Fillmore County Zoning Office.
6) A minimum 30-foot setback from center of the ditch is required for placement of solar panels.
7) Permittee shall submit a Performance Bond in the amount of $1,125,000 for a 45 MW project.
8) Proof of liability insurance must be provided to the Fillmore County Zoning Office.
The CUP was approved unanimously with the listed conditions.
Adkins explained the building permits will not be issued until the conditions are met. Nothing happens with the project until building permits are approved.
The county board is expected to consider this CUP and the attached conditions at their January 26 meeting.