County to start working on law to govern solar arrays

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Solar power is rapidly growing in Minnesota and now Swift County is seeing some land owners expressing an interest in putting up the panels.

While the current proposal is small, there are some very large solar arrays coming on line around the state. In a rural area north of the Twin Cities an array covering more than 1,000 acres of land that once was planted to corn and soybeans is now producing electricity.

The Chisago County solar panel farm is producing enough power to energize more than 20,000 homes, Minnesota Public Radio reported in a story last fall.

Back in 1996, Minnesota was only producing enough solar energy to power 16 homes. By 2015, 35 megawatts of capacity was generated, or enough to power more than 39,000 homes, MPR’s story said. And last year, that capacity jumped to 250 megawatts.

The North Star project in Chisago County has the capacity to produce 100 megawatts of electricity, which it sells to Xcel Energy.

While interest in solar panels is now growing in rural Swift County, it does not have any reference governing their installation in its ordinances, Environmental Services Director Scott Collins told commissioners at their March 21 meeting.

“When we did our ordinance update, solar was not on the radar,” Collins said. “We do not identify it in our ordinance. I have talked to other counties in trying to figure out what we can and can’t do. I’ve talked to (County Attorney) Danielle Olson.”

He has also talked with Agralite Cooperative’s Manager Kory Johnson about solar energy. Those who produce more solar energy than they can consume themselves may want to sell the excess into the electric grid, Collins said.

The project that is being proposed in Swift County by a person who has talked to Collins is a small one with only six to eight panels, he said. There are no alarms or bells going off with the current proposal, but the county needs to develop an ordinance to govern their installation and operation.

Swift County needs to start to think about an update to its ordinance to see what it wants because it is likely that requests for solar arrays is only going to increase, Collins told commissioners. There are a growing number of them that can now be seen across the countryside in rural areas, he said.

An ordinance would define where the solar arrays could be located, how they have to be operated to not be a nuisance or hazard, and how any problems that arise will be addressed....


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