At the February 28 meeting of the Planning Commission, proposed language for an ordinance regulating accessory solar energy systems and solar energy farms was introduced.
This was the first time the planning commission met in 2019. Gary Ruskell was reelected as chairman and Steve Duxbury as vice-chairman.
The commission has been considering a broader ordinance for renewal energy systems for several months. Zoning administrator Cristal Adkins explained that language similar to this more simplified proposal, introduced this day, has been in effect in Dodge County, where a number of solar farms have been permitted.
The proposal is to update the current wind ordinance and integrate it with this language regulating solar energy systems.
County Attorney Brett Corson asked about biomass and geothermal. Right now these versions of renewable energy are not permitted. Commissioner Duane Bakke noted that right now biodigesters would fall under Feedlots and biomass, like ethanol, would be commercial.
The consensus of the commission was to keep it simple at this point. Accessory solar systems less than 40 kW will be a permitted use in all Primary Zoning Districts. These systems are intended to serve structures and facilities “with an individual permitted or conditional use in the zoning district in which it is located.” An accessory solar system may serve a dairy facility, for example.
A conditional use permit will be required for solar energy systems that exceed 40 kW or cover greater than one-half acre of land.
Solar Energy Farms will have additional requirements and permitting; for example, stormwater management and erosion and sediment control shall meet requirements of an appropriate permit issued by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency. All solar farms will need to comply with local, state, and federal regulatory standards.
A Decommissioning Plan and Restoration Plan will be required as part of the project application. Prior to construction a Performance Bond in the amount of $25,000 per MW (1,000 kW are in 1 MW) of the proposed energy farm must be submitted. This will be renewed on an annual basis for the life of the project.
A motion to bring this proposed language, to regulate accessory solar energy systems and solar energy farms, to public hearing on March 28 was approved.
MiEnergy Telecommunications Towers
A public hearing was held for a conditional use permit for each of three telecommunication towers proposed by MiEnergy. Last month at the Board of Adjustment a variance was granted for the construction of each of the sub monopole telecommunication towers, due to the size of the parcels where they are to be located. The variances were needed as each of the towers will not meet the setback requirement to the property line.
Vassil Vutov, vice-president for information technology, was present to answer any questions. There was a separate public hearing for each tower. The telecommunication towers are to be located in Arendahl Township, Section 32 (Peterson Substation); Fountain Township, Section 15; and Spring Valley Township, Section 24.
Jelon Hogie and Jessie Arnold, Arendahl Township, had questions about the height of the tower, if there was a light on it, and if the tower would interfere with farming the land near it.
Vutov explained the galvanized steel monopole will be 120 feet above ground and be four and one-half feet in diameter at the base and two feet in diameter near the top. The total length of the monopole is 145 feet, 25 feet will be buried below ground. There will be no light or guide wires. All wiring, antenna feed lines, will run within the monopole. Dishes installed for internal microwave communications and antennas will be located well up the pole about 110 feet from the ground. An 11 gigahertz microwave radio will be near the top and it should not interfere with any other communications. The purpose of the radio is for a communications link between substations; there are a total of 23 substations. The data will be transmitted to facilitate daily operation of the coop.
Corson asked about any conditions for the CUP and if a decommissioning bond is required. Bakke said they will have to comply with the ordinance in place for decommissioning. Vutov explained the coop has the equipment to remove the tower, if it came to that.
Each of the three CUPs were approved unanimously. There were no other comments from the public. Dan Schmidt, representing Fountain Township, said the township board has no problem with the tower.
Adkins said a decommissioning bond could be imposed at the will of the planning commission or the county board. Bakke commented that the tower is a single tube. Decommissioning bonds have not been imposed on cell or communication towers. A bond is required to decommission wind towers, which pose a greater concern.
There was a short discussion at the end of the meeting about variances to build a home on land of CER (crop equivalent rating) 65 or above. Bakke, who is not on the board of adjustment, suggested applications for variances should be turned down if there is not a hardship.
Adkins explained they will be working on a new Comprehensive Plan for the county this year. The last plan was implemented 15 years ago and protection of agricultural land was a high priority. At that time wedding venues and solar farms were not considered.
The Zoning Ordinance should be in agreement with the Comprehensive Plan.
Trinity Thompson maintained the only thing we are restricting on CER of over 65 is a dwelling. Bakke insisted there should be a hardship to get a variance, adding the ordinance is not about preserving the ground itself. Mitch Lentz said if you have an ordinance in place, “enforce it or change it.”
Board of Adjustment
Jerry and Pam McCabe, Section 30, Carrolton Township, applied for a variance to build a small addition on the north side of their current home. The home is located 50 foot from the center line of the road rather than the required 75 feet. The well and septic tank limit where the addition can be constructed. The addition on the north side of the house is the only option.
The addition which will include a main floor full bathroom, office, and laundry area will be the same distance from the road as the home currently is. There are also plans to build a 12-foot by 10-foot partially covered deck to the east of the addition and a garage is planned under the enclosed area.
There was no comment from the public or the township. The variance was unanimously approved.
A second public hearing was held to consider a variance application from Dakota Johnson and Ryan Benson to build a dwelling on land with a CER greater than 65. The parcel is located in Section 30, Amherst Township.
Adkins said the proposed location is about 450 feet from the road. Johnson said they plan to construct a new driveway. Tom Thompson asked if they considered other building spots. Johnson said they want the house back farther from the road. Adkins noted the entire parcel is over CER 65.
There was no comment from the public or the township. Johnson suggested they will parcel off about five acres from the Johnson Family Farms. The variance was approved.