Savion, headquartered in Lenexa, Kans., is proposing the development of a utility-scale solar project in Beaver Township, Section 14. Fillmore County Solar Project, LLC is expected to be a 45 MW solar energy facility. Local residents were invited to a meeting held at the United Methodist Church in Spring Valley on October 9 to learn more about the project and to get their feedback.
Savion was founded in 2019 when it spun off from Tradewinds Energy, Inc. The renewable energy company has completed 16 projects in eight states and has 95 projects in development in 23 states.
Travis Narum, senior development manager, explained costs for solar have come down in the last five to 10 years. The panels are more efficient and cost less. Solar “produces electricity when the grid wants it most,” during the day. A solar farm requires very little maintenance; most of the cost is up front during construction. Solar produces no emissions of any kind. It provides diversity in sources of electricity for the grid.
Other benefits to the township/county include increased tax revenue, job creation, and landowner royalties. This kind of project, which is in the middle of the process of becoming a reality, takes three to five years from inception to construction. It is expected to produce 88,000 MWh per year, a sustainable power source. Savion sells the project as a healthy “economic development opportunity for local land to harvest a stable cash crop — the sun.” The location was chosen so they can tap into a transmission line large enough to accommodate the project (60 kV line). Narum noted that there will not be other like projects in the county because there is not enough transmission capacity for another project of this size.
The project site involves three landowners and they are in the late stage of negotiations (total of 580 acres). An Environmental Assessment Worksheet (EAW) has been submitted; the expectation is that the review will take three to five months. The next step is to seek a conditional use permit. This application may be submitted in early 2020. Narum estimated that the project could come on line as early as 2021 or as late as 2023.
The projected life of the project is 20 years per power purchase agreement. The panels can last 30 years. It is expected to produce enough electricity to power 6,000 homes. Narum maintains the project will pump revenue into the local economy. The initial capital investment may be $60 million plus. About 150 jobs will be produced during construction. Production taxes per year are expected to be $100,000; these will go 80% to the county and 20% to the township.
Before opening the meeting to questions, Narum addressed possible impacts to the area. The construction will be designed to the extent possible to not damage drainage tiles. If there is damage, they will have a crew to repair them. Native grasses and other plants will be planted to prevent erosion. Operations and maintenance crews will promptly identify invasive weeds and remove them. He said he understood the project will be taking productive agricultural land out of production. Flat land with no wetlands is necessary. At the end of the project life the land can easily be returned to agricultural use. Neighboring homes are always a concern. Savion intends to have as big of a setback as possible from homes. Five homes are near the project area. Narum insisted there is no impact to home values according to studies that have been done.
Questions and comments
Most all who had questions or comments were not in favor of the project. A woman said her family had just built their home four years ago. Their six acres are surrounded on three sides by the project area. She said she had major concerns and was not happy. “How are you going to make it right for us”? She complained that they will have to look at it every day, plus there will be construction noise.
Justin Kennedy, chairman of Beaver Township Board, was incensed. “We were never contacted until 10 or so days ago. Why didn’t you speak to the people that will be affected?” Narum said he understood their concerns; however, they initially talk to landowners to see if there even will be a project.
It was noted that a nearby parcel sale was pending and the buyer backed out when he heard about the project.
A question was asked on how deep the posts will go. The answer is about six to eight feet, below the frost line. Narum said there will be a decommission plan; it will be easy to turn the property back to farmland. Ninety-five percent of panels are salvageable and can be recycled.
Kennedy maintained the company’s credibility has been damaged, “Neither you or the county spoke to us before this meeting. You have been talking to the county for over a year.”
Emily Truebner, senior permitting and environmental director for Savion, said they appreciate the feedback.
A woman said, “Our house is 100 yards from the project area; I feel our home has lost value.”
It was noted that most all of the project area land is owned by absentee landowners. Narum said that they either lease or buy the land, depending on the landowner’s preference.
Kennedy said he was speaking for roughly 14 other people – people that couldn’t be here because they are farming today. He chastised Narum for holding this meeting in October, during harvest. He asked if they had other projects like this where you have to deal with subsurface drainage. Narum said the construction companies they hire have experience with tile. They get GPS maps of tile lines. The design for the solar farm is flexible. There are 30 to 36 feet between posts, and there will be retention ponds. Narum explained solar doesn’t really change the amount of permeable land. There is 20 feet between panels.
Truebner said this meeting is all part of the process. Construction is two years out. This feedback helps us design a better project. “Everyone is afraid of what we don’t know.”
On a question about weed control, Narum answered, saying that with any development it is important to learn from the local community. They will get more specific as they learn more; it is all part of the process. That is why Minnesota has an EAW process.