Solar power boom in Chisago County creates winners and losers

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Solar power boom in Chisago County creates winners and losers

December 27, 2015

NORTH BRANCH, MINN – Solar power is reshaping the landscape in Chisago County north of the Twin Cities.

In a change that has surprised and angered some residents, eight major solar power projects, including Minnesota’s largest, are proposed to be built here next year on more than 1,000 acres of land now mostly used to grow corn and soybeans.

It puts Chisago County, population 54,000, at the epicenter of a solar boom fueled partly by state renewable energy policies. The Chisago projects will generate five times the solar energy now produced across Minnesota — and more than offset the electricity consumed by the county’s 20,000 households.

“It is going to be an unusual amount of solar in that part of the state and it will test the tolerance for an industry that is essentially benign, meaning pollution-free,” said Mark Andrew, a former Hennepin County commissioner and now president of GreenMark, which helped develop the state’s current largest solar project, but has no part in the Chisago development.

The county is a prime location for solar because it’s near the Twin Cities, has open land that’s not already slated for development and is the site of major transmission lines and substations. All of the Chisago solar power is to be sold to Minneapolis-based Xcel Energy, in some cases through its community solar program that allows customers to subscribe to central solar arrays.

Yet not everyone in this semirural county wants to see green fields turned into green energy.

The largest project, North Star Solar, covering an area equivalent to two Lake Calhouns, will entirely surround seven rural homes. To appease those unhappy homeowners, North Star agreed to buy their properties at above-market prices — the first U.S. solar project to take such a step, the developer says.

Six other homeowners will be hemmed in by North Star Solar to the north and another solar project to the south, with the potential for more solar to the west. Angry that they’re not getting buyout offers, those homeowners say solar panels will be visual intrusions, will diminish property values and could wall off wildlife and pose health risks from magnetic fields.

“We are literally caught between two monsters, and neither one of them is going to offer us anything,” said Paul Carpenter, one of affected homeowners on 367th St., about 15 miles southeast of North Branch.

Community Energy Renewables of Radnor, Pa., the company developing North Star Solar, says its field of solar panels will be screened by new and existing trees, and will be 71 feet to 91 feet away from Carpenter’s street.

SOURCE:  Star Tribune

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