Citizens call for solar array permitting changes

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Citizens call for solar array permitting changes

December 11, 2017

Chisago County has worn its reputation for being known as ‘solar capital of Minnesota’ proudly,  but the glow has worn-off for a group of landowners in the south end of the county. Approximately 25 to 30 citizens attended what ended up being a two-hour sit down with zoning officials and County Commissioner Rick Greene last week, to air concerns over proliferating solar array sites.  

Most own land in County  Commissioner Greene’s district, but there were people attending with addresses in other commissioner districts as well. Franconia Town Board Chair Supervisor Dennis Gustafson was also present.

The informal session was organized by Angel Phillips Permaloff,  who said she is a relatively recent resident and acknowledged she has probably not been involved in local political issues to the degree that she should. 

The goal in arranging this confab, she explained, is to move forward with changing solar-related ordinances to better reflect concerns arising from numerous, smaller solar array installations.  (Major solar arrays, like North Star near North Branch,  are regulated by the state Public Utilities Commission and Dept. of Commerce and permitting is not under local control.)

Permaloff said she started looking into local regulations on solar land uses and saw policy statements in the county comprehensive land use plan that don’t “jive” with what’s actually being applied to solar arrays.

County Environmental Services Director Kurt Schneider commented that the county planning commission just completed a Comp Plan review,  and in short order it will turn to making sure ordinance wording reflects the plan.  The audience members were welcomed to engage in that upcoming process.  

The public hearing fee, to reword an ordinance, starts is $571. Zoning staff member Tara Guy said she would be happy to help the group  navigate making a formal request for the county planning commission to start the process.  Town Board Chair Gustafson announced he will ask supervisors to use township funds for the fee.

Zoning Director Schneider observed that with so little of actual land mass involved, the current solar arrays don’t approach  any definition of “saturating” the south-of-Lindstrom area, which was one of many resident concerns.  But, John Chrun responded that the ordinance must contain a limit on numbers of acres allowed to be in solar in any identified area.  His thought is that when it reaches a saturation point (apparently where everybody agrees there’s just too many panels in one area) there won’t be any teeth for the county to legally cap solar applications.  “If you don’t set a saturation level, you leave the county open to a lawsuit when the next developer comes along and you say no,” Chrun predicted.

Schneider responded it’s understandable why these neighbors perceive solar as rampant.  There have been four recent projects underway or completed, and staff is aware of a couple more pending in the general corridor along Olinda Trail South.  

SOURCE: Chisago County Press

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