The Fillmore County planning commission has been developing language for a Renewable Energy Ordinance over the last several months. EDA director Marty Walsh had been directed to do some research on transmission lines and related capacity. He offered more information on the possible development of a 50 megawatt solar farm at the commission’s July 26 meeting.
In regard to the Renewable Energy Ordinance, discussion has centered on industrial solar development. The county can permit up to a 50 mW project. Walsh reported that Tradewind Energy, a Kansas based for profit renewable energy company, is actively obtaining leases in Beaver Township for a possible future solar farm.
It is expected to take about 500 acres for the 50 mW project. Property located in a strip of land that is 2.5 miles wide and 22 miles long along the Dairyland Power Coop 69 kV line could be sought for a large solar project. This transmission line could currently support one 50 mW solar project. The commission was concerned at the previous meeting about the number of solar farms of this size that could be developed. Walsh noted that, according to Dairyland, this is the maximum it could handle at this time, one 50 mW project. Further development would require increasing the capacity of the line and local grid system.
With the development of a 50 mW industrial solar field the county and township would get additional revenue through the Solar Energy Production Credit. The estimated $100,000 per year would be split 80% county and 20% township. Over the expected 30- to 40-year life of the solar field, this revenue could amount to $3 to $4 million. This is not a property tax which will still be assessed on the leased acres.
Local businesses would enjoy additional business during the six month or longer construction phase of the solar field, which will require a large construction force. It is expected there would be one to three full-time jobs for solar technicians after the solar farm is operational. Snow removal off the panels and mowing may provide other jobs. Land owners will get ongoing lease payments during the life of the project.
Walsh compared the long term leasing of the agricultural land for a solar farm to another long term agricultural project like forestry. Five hundred acres represents less than 1 tenth of 1% of the county’s estimated 551,000 acres and just over a tenth of 1% of the approximately 423,000 acres of agricultural land (cropland and pasture) in the county. Solar photovoltaic panels will ideally be installed on slightly south sloping ground with few trees within about a one mile band of existing high voltage transmission lines. These transmission lines owned by Dairyland Power are west of Harmony.
As to the possibility of more solar farms being developed along these lines, there could realistically be some more but only with an increase of capacity of the transmission lines and the local grid system/substations.
Walsh said the efforts of Tradewind Energy to develop a solar farm would be the first stand alone project in the region. If the project is developed Tradewind Energy will sell it; they develop, but don’t manage and operate.
Walsh also noted agricultural land is already being used to produce energy, corn for ethanol.
Duane Bakke brought up the possibility of a size restriction for the ordinance, then added landowners have a right to lease their land.
In the May meeting Tradewind Energy had suggested a few changes to the proposed ordinance. Bakke said he didn’t feel they should change the ordinance for them. Their representative said the company needs time to cover their risk/investment, suggesting the ordinance allow up to three years after the conditional use permit is issued to begin construction activities, so the CUP doesn’t expire. The standard timeline is 12 months. Zoning Administrator Cristal Adkins said a request to allow an extended time to begin construction can be addressed in the conditional use permit. A progress report could be required every six months.
The proposed Renewable Energy Ordinance language will likely be reviewed by the commission at the next meeting before being scheduled for public hearing.
Board of Adjustment
Two public hearings were held addressing variance requests.
Seth Erickson, Section 15, Pilot Mound Township, requested a 28-foot variance from the setback to the center line of the road to construct a 30-foot by 40-foot shed. This shed will replace an existing deteriorated shed in the same location. He said this location will allow him to keep the shed out of a dry run, avoiding drainage issues. The new shed is to be the same distance from the road as the current shed. There was no comment from township officials or the public. The 28-foot variance was approved.
Dan Terbeest, Section 17, Bloomfield Township, returned with more information for his variance request to establish a sand pit within the 1,000-foot setback to a dwelling. The variance request was tabled at the last meeting. Terbeest was directed at the June meeting to provide a survey, a specific number of feet for the variance, and a letter of consent from the neighboring home owners.
This day the survey was provided, as well as a letter of consent from Deb and Mark Larson (sister and brother-in-law), owners of the neighboring dwelling. Terbeest asked for a 650-foot variance from the dwelling. He said he will not mine within 50 feet of the property line (setback required by the ordinance), adding this is not an active part of the sand pit. Terbeest noted the excavation had begun on the Larson property which has been mined out.
There was no comment from township officials or the public. The 650-foot variance was approved on a 4:1 vote. Gary Ruskell voted against.