Solar farms are a new technology and innovation that many in the agricultural community have taken to, and the Waseca area could see more and more in the future.
The Waseca County Board of Commissioners is considering how to handle placement of solar farms throughout the county, and it asked the City Council for a recommendation on a solar farm buffer area. City Manager Lee Mattson presented the council with information of what the county is already doing on this matter.
The county board recently placed a moratorium on the development of new solar farms, while it studies regulations relating to the proximity of solar farms to residential structures or cities. The city of Waseca was asked to comment on what type of setback or distance would be appropriate.
The council unanimously voted in favor of a one-mile radius around the city of Waseca with the requirement that the county get city approval before giving the OK to a project that will encroach the one mile radius. There was a project elsewhere that brought concerns to the county, which asked for the city to be brought in on the conversation.
City staff has a few concerns with the proximity of solar farms to city limits.
The first reason listed in the council documents is the proximity of solar farms may be viewed as having a negative impact on the desirability of land for residential development.
The second reason being that solar farms constructed in city growth areas represent land that does not need city services or utilities but may need to be traversed by those utilities to reach parcels on the other side of the solar farm. That means the city or developer would have to pay more to extend utilities without gaining additional customers, driving up development costs.
The third reason listed was that solar farms may prevent development of all types merely by occupying space that would otherwise be conventionally developed.
Mattson presented the council with a staff recommendation of 500 feet between any incorporated city or urban expansion zone in Waseca County.
“I definitely want to protect the city for future expansion issues and what we are talking about is those who don’t live in the limits of Waseca and don’t have a vote in Waseca, but have no voice, and the city tells them what to do,” Councilor Jeremy Conrath said. “... tough decision no matter what way we go on it.”
Tlougan made a clarification to Conrath’s statement, noting that the city’s vote was a recommendation and the county has final say in what people are able to do with solar farms. Councilor Mark Christiansen mentioned the subdivision that was developed years ago that is a two-mile radius from urban and developing spots.
“We did that so we could develop it when we were ready and I say we go the two-mile area and say that we want no solar farms,” Christiansen said about solar farms within that range of growth area.
“I agree with Mark, because I don’t think the 500 feet is far enough,” Councilor Daren Arndt said.
“I can’t go along with the two miles,” Conrath said. “That is a long distance and that is affecting what people can and can’t do with their land.”
“I do think that the two miles is a little excessive … two miles is a little restrictive. I would be willing to compromise with a mile,” newest Councilor Larry Johnson said.
Outside of the distance, Tlougan asked about the sustainability of these solar panels that are created into solar farms. Staff said 25 years is the life expectancy of the panels.
“There are some very valuable materials in those solar panels as far as recyclable materials would go, so they would naturally be recycled as well,” Mayor Roy Srp said.
Once the council heard a few ideas, it tested out the motions.
The first motion was made to recommend a two-mile radius for the city of Waseca when building solar farms next to growth areas. This motion failed three to four, with Arndt, Christiansen and Tlougan voting in favor.
After this failed, Johnson spoke up with his motion for the council to vote on. He made the motion to ask the county that it requires city approval if a faculty wants to go within or encroach within one mile of growth zones.
This motion passed and will be presented to the county board.
The other recommendation that was asked to be considered by city staff was a buffer area around all highway interchanges through Waseca County. The council made a second motion specifically about Waseca interchanges. Tlougan made the motion to protect the Waseca interchanges from solar farm development. This passed 7-0 in favor of the motion.