Complaints Put Focus on Solar Farms in Minnesota Communities

While solar farms can be placed anywhere if there are power lines, many of the solar arrays have been placed relatively close to electric substations, meaning neighbors in the area can feel surrounded by them.

by Tim Krohn, The Free Press / July 18, 2019
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(TNS) — The idea of solar arrays capturing pollution-free electrical power from the sky is broadly embraced, but a growing number of neighbors near proposed solar farms are opposing them.

Minnesota's Waseca and Le Sueur counties recently enacted a temporary moratorium on new solar arrays and Blue Earth County plans to review its zoning ordinance to see if rules should be tightened.

At their recent meeting, the Blue Earth County planning commission asked to have a work session with the county board to discuss the issue.

“We were led to believe there was going to be a few (solar farms) around. Well, lo and behold, there’s more than a few. And we’ve learned our ordinance isn’t good enough.” Chairman Lyle Femrite said at the meeting.

Planning Commissioner Kurt Anderson said they also want to get more input from the public.

County Commissioner Kip Bruender, who is also on the planning commission, said there have been growing concerns from some residents as solar projects have increased.

“We put an ordinance together two or three years ago. We thought it was a relatively decent policy but after we put it in, we ran into a density issue.”

While solar farms can be placed anywhere if there are power lines with adequate capacity to tap into nearby, many of the solar arrays have been placed relatively close to electric substations, meaning neighbors in the area can feel surrounded by them.

“They’re going to need to get some more technology if they want to keep putting solar farms up. You can’t just bombard just one neighborhood with all of them,” Bruender said.

And the county’s current ordinance doesn’t require any setback from the property lines for solar farms.

“So they can build right up to the border line or to the road,” Bruender said.

“So I think setbacks and density are the big issues.”

Last July the county approved a solar farm north of Eagle Lake that drew sharp criticism from some neighbors.

In the end, the county required the array be moved back about 460 feet from the roadway to address concerns from nearby neighbors. In addition, the company was required to screen the array off by planting trees no more than 8 feet apart on the array’s north, west and south side.

Bruender, who along with the rest of the commissioners voted to approve the solar farm, said at the time that there is a balancing act between allowing people to use their property as they wish and protecting the interests of neighbors.

Bruender said he hopes the board and planning commission can meet on the issue by September.

Moratoriums

Waseca County Planning & Zoning Administrator Mark Leiferman said a 180-day moratorium was put in place by the county board in March, while the planning commission looks at recommendations for solar array rule changes.

He said the planning commission had earlier recommended to the board that if a solar array was within 500 feet of a residence there should be a setback of 200 feet from property lines.

“The county board wasn’t sure that was strong enough so they put the moratorium in,” Leiferman said.

He said the planning commission is likely to offer more alternatives to the board to look at in possible ordinance changes.

Leiferman said opposition to new arrays have mostly come from residents, but he said the city of Waseca has also asked that no solar farms be built within one mile of the city limits.

The county currently has a 10 megawatt, 5 megawatt and 15 1-megawatt solar farms.

Leiferman said the added electric load from existing solar farms may start naturally limiting future solar growth.

“A lot of our (electric) substations are probably getting near their capacity.”

At their meeting earlier this month, the Le Sueur County Board voted 4-1 to put a moratorium on new solar farm or garden permits for one year.

According to Southernminnesota.com, the board wants to add setbacks for solar farms as well as distances they can be located from a residence and possibly limit how many can be in one area.

©2019 The Free Press (Mankato, Minn.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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