Numerous conditions were applied to a permit for a three-megawatt solar array to be built on a 25-acre parcel east of Silver lake near State Highway 7 in Winsted Township.
But neighbors of the property who attended the meeting weren't all convinced that was enough. Some asked not to have any barbed wire on top of a fence surrounding the panels, while others weren't sure there was enough done to protect them from stray voltage. Neighbors also requested a higher fence, and for trees to be larger when planted, in case they don't grow fast enough.
"We live out here, and you think things would maybe move a little slower in taking on something that hasn't been proven elsewhere," said one neighbor. "Would you consider letting someone else be the test site?"
Xcel Energy estimates more than 200 solar array sites may soon connect to its power grid around the state. It is partnering with groups such as SunShare to help individuals create "solar gardens" in response to legislation requiring more renewable energy. The property in question is owned by Steinkraus Lester Prairie LLC.
Board Member Doug Krueger said he understood the concerns of neighbors who wanted to maintain a rural lifestyle without vistas of glass more often associated with large cities. But he said the bottom line was property rights.
"I appreciate the statements of adjacent landowners," he said. "It's not a typical use of farmland. But the landowner has a right to use his property. It's a permitted function … it's a difficult vote but I think we need to go forward."
The solar array must remain in compliance with the following conditions, as unanimously approved by the County Board:
Proof of insurance must be provided to the zoning office.A bond or letter of credit worth $60,000 must be submitted to help pay for damage or site demolition in the event that the land owner abandons the site or sells it to a party not interested in maintaining it.A copy of Minnesota Department of Transportation approval to access the site via gravel road must be submitted.Xcel Energy must check for stray voltage on site and neighboring sites on a monthly basis for one year. Sunshare must check quarterly the first year, and annually after the first year. Sunshare must pay for up to $3,000 of tests.A contact person to deal with noxious weeds must be identified by placard on the site, including contact information.A contact must be provided to the zoning office for decommission and reclamation once the service is no longer in use.A landscape buffer plan and vegetative management plan must be provided to the zoning office.A wetland delineation must be performed.The applicant must meet all National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System requirements.A six-foot tall fence must be installed.Trees must be planted and maintained around the site to make it more aesthetically pleasing. The trees must be four feet tall to begin.If stray voltage is found, it must be fixed immediately.
Board members believe both Xcel Energy and Sunshare would be motivated to fix stray voltage issues to avoid losing money.
Board Chair Paul Wright said Wednesday the board hasn't yet decided it is time to create an ordinance for all solar panels in the county.
"A conditional-use permit (like this one) is a custom application," he said. "Each is seen different. We try to maintain standards, but it lets us look at each unique situation."
Wright said there are rumors of more permits for solar panels in the works. The site approved by the County Board Tuesday must still meet requirements by various state agencies, and must be approved by Xcel Energy.