County board sets public hearing on solar panel law

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Near North Branch in Chisago County 1,000 acres of land is now covered by 440,000 solar panels that are expected to generate enough electricity to power 20,000 homes.

If you are driving east on Minnesota Highway 23, you will see 100 acres of farmland that is now home to a solar panel array that will generate 15.23 megawatts of power, enough for nearly 2,500 homes. Along U.S Highway 12 near Atwater is a 37-acre solar farm. These are just three examples of the growing number of solar energy projects underway in the state.

“Minnesota had just one megawatt of solar capacity in 2009,” Minnesota Public Radio’s Elizabeth Dunbar reported earlier this month. “Now it’s 447 megawatts, or enough to power about 63,000 homes.”

“It’s not alternative anymore,” State Commerce Commissioner Mike Rothman told Dunbar. “It’s mainstream energy. This is like what wind was 10 or 20 years ago, where now we have 18 percent of our total electricity generated by wind.” Rothman said 2017 would see even more growth in the state’s solar energy portfolio as new, large solar farms come online.

With the constant improvements in solar energy technology more and more companies are looking for sites on which to build solar arrays that can feed power into the grid. There are also a growing number of homeowners, farms, and businesses looking to supplement their power with solar energy.

A person who wants to put up a small number of solar panels has approached Swift County and it has had other inquiries about solar projects as well. However, at this point it has no land use ordinance that governs that installation of solar arrays. Such an ordinance would set down the conditions under which a solar farm would be installed and operated.

It has now drafted a proposed ordinance to govern solar panel use in the county and approved its first reading at the board’s May 16 meeting. It takes approving two readings of an ordinance, a public hearing, and publishing it in the county’s legal newspaper (The Appleton Press for 2017) for an ordinance to move toward becoming law. Thirty days after publication it becomes law unless challenged by petition.

Commissioners have set a public hearing for June 20 at 5:15 p.m. in the commissioners’ meeting room to gather citizen comments on the proposed ordinance. Those comments could lead to changes in how the law is currently drafted....


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