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County votes down wind, solar project moratorium

By Reed Anfinson
Commissioners voted unanimously against implementing a wind and solar project moratorium as they study revisions to the 2008 wind ordinance and 2020 solar ordinance.
Swift County’s Board of Commissioners meeting room was packed last Tuesday with citizens and industry representatives concerned about the county’s proposal to implement up to a one year moratorium on wind and solar projects.
At their March 19 meeting, the question was raised of whether the county’s current wind and solar ordinances adequately addressed the evolving wind and solar innovations as well as the expanding size of these green energy projects.
Of primary concern, Swift County Environmental Services Director Scott Collins said, was the decommissioning of large green energy projects years from now. Swift County’s solar ordinance was adopted in 2020 and its wind ordinance in 2008.
At their April 2 meeting, the board set a public hearing for May 7 to consider passing a resolution approving an emergency interim ordinance on large solar and wind energy conversion systems.
What appeared to be a lack of current local interest in wind and solar projects as well as growing concern in counties around Minnesota about the potential future decommission costs led Collins to recommend the county approve the moratorium. There were no solar or wind permit requests before the county when Collins made the request to consider the moratorium.
Stevens, Meeker, Renville, and Chippewa counties imposed moratoriums to give them time to review their existing policies, the board was told.
Commissioners agreed now was the time to revise its two ordinances before requests to approve large scale projects started being submitted. However, there was some disagreement on whether a moratorium was needed as the revisions were studied.
It is anticipated that Swift County could see increased interest in large solar and wind projects in western townships with Otter Tail Power Company and Missouri River Energy Services pursuing construction of a 345-kV transmission line from Big Stone, S.D., to Alexandria.
It would run through western Swift County and be able to accommodate power generated by large wind and solar energy projects.
 “They are out there, and they are coming,” Collins told commissioners of the larger wind and solar energy projects they could be faced with approving in the future.
Since the stories were published on the proposed moratorium, the county has learned that there probably was far more progress on some projects that it was aware of, Collins said at the May 7 public hearing.  There probably have been some contracts negotiated with interest expressed by landowners countywide, he said.
It was proposed to implement the moratorium May 7 and then turn the possible revisions of the wind and solar ordinances over to the county planning commission, Collins told the crowd filling the meeting room. The revised ordinances would be returned to the county board in about six months for approval, he said. As long as a moratorium was in place, no projects would be approved.
However, Collins talked to all the members of the planning commission and there was pretty much a unanimous consensus that the county board do the research leading to revising the wind and solar ordinances. They may have felt pressured by the six-month deadline, he said.

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