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Hand sanitizer is shown ready for use by the public. Northfield business Loon Liquors donated 5 gallons of the product Monday to North Memorial Ambulance Service. Hand washing and sanitizing helps minimize the spread of viruses, including the coronavirus. (Michelle Vlasak/Faribault Daily News)

Council OKs 1-megawatt solar farm after concerns are eased

The Northfield City Council on Tuesday unanimously green-lighted a 1-megawatt solar farm on St. Olaf College land after runoff concerns caused by a current 1-megawatt on-site solar farm were eased.

The planned solar farm, expected to be in Dakota County and operated by Minneapolis-based renewable energy developer Hyacinth Solar, is projected to take up approximately 10 acres and be able to power 258 homes annually. The solar farm will be next to another owned by a separate company.

Construction is slated to begin this spring and be completed this year.

Mayor Rhonda Pownell noted the land owner directly to the west of the proposed solar farm is owned by a different owner, and asked if concern expressed by a landowner at a Planning Commission meeting over solar farm runoff had been addressed.


City Engineer David Bennett replied that the proposed project satisfies city code. He noted there are pervious surface provisions on the current application that weren’t on the previous solar farm development, adding St. Olaf and city representatives have met to discuss issues on the existing site on an ongoing basis.


Councilor David DeLong expressed concern about city code in lieu of the current solar facility fulfilling requirements but still having excess runoff.

“Maybe we should look at changing the code a little bit,” he said.

Despite his apprehension, DeLong said he was glad Bennett made changes to the planned solar farm, he hopes that alleviates any issues, and he supports installation.

Fellow Councilor Brad Ness said he is confident runoff issues with the current site can be resolved, adding he was becoming more comfortable with the new site due to its additional restrictions and planning amendments.

Councilor Suzie Nakasian and Pownell said the project nicely intertwines with the city’s commitment to developing more solar energy as it seeks to transition to carbon neutrality by 2040. Pownell noted such plans are complicated when taking into account the problems surrounding property owners have faced and the corresponding ag land reduction. In supporting the measure, she said she hoped such issues would be taken care of.

Hyacinth Solar Associate Marta Jensen said stormwater will not impact existing drainage patterns, and features have been designed to discharge water in a less concentrated way. Native and pollinator-friendly vegetation have been shown to prevent soil erosion and benefit high-value agriculture crops. The site will be seeded with a native grass mix.

Hyacinth has approved a plan laying out the conditions relating to meeting discharge rates.

The company plans to loosen soils to ensure they do not act as impervious substances. An enforcement section states a city investigation is required to determine non-compliance and then work with the city attorney to bring the solar farm back into compliance.

The solar farm cannot increase runoff from current rates.

Developers have added a stormwater basin at the request of the city engineer, along with other changes intended to decrease runoff.

The solar farm is proposed as a community solar garden through Xcel Energy’s Solar Rewards Community Program. In 2013, state legislation directed the Minneapolis-based utility to create a program for community solar gardens. The program is overseen by the state’s Public Utilities Commission, and a community solar garden is considered a centralized, shared solar project connected to the energy grid that has multiple subscribers. Each subscriber receives a credit on their Xcel Energy electric bill based on the production of the solar facility and their subscription share.

The initiative is limited to in-state Xcel Energy customers, and subscribers must be within the same county or within an adjacent county. Each subscriber can subscribe for up to 40% of a community solar garden. There must be a minimum of five subscribers per solar garden.

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Council declares local emergency as coronavirus pandemic continues

The Northfield City Council on March 17th declared a local emergency as the nation continues fighting to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

The declaration is required if federal or state reimbursements are made available at a later date. The pronouncement allows the city to allow certain policies and procedures to be waived to provide a more rapid response, and manage city operations in accordance with Gov. Tim Walz’ peacetime state of emergency declaration last week. The order directs resources to respond to and recover from the pandemic that will likely exceed regularly dedicated operating resources available in the city. Additional resources could be needed from Rice County, Dakota County, and state and federal sources to assist in an effective local response to the pandemic.

During the emergency, Mayor Rhonda Pownell will have direct responsibility for the city’s approach to the outbreak, including carrying out orders, rules and regulations issued by Gov. Tim Walz pertaining to the emergency.

The director of emergency management service will be responsible for EMS emergency personnel who have not been assigned to other city departments.


City staff are using Minnesota Department of Health/state orders and guidelines to evaluate city service delivery, including short/long term delivery of essential services, promoting the health of city staff, prioritizing services, evaluating, modifying and closing buildings and physical spaces and identifying, ordering and protecting city supplies.

There have been modifications to office spaces and procedures, staff are monitoring regulations, guidelines and business-related programs, and no city changes or new programs are currently planned.

The City Council can implement self-family care and preparedness/planning, receive official city notifications and updates from staff, share information and requests from the public with the city administrator and other designated staff, share official city communications with constituents, direct community members to official communication sources and be prepared for an alternate council meeting date.

The council will need to rescind the emergency for it to end.

In declaring the local emergency, the council acknowledged the coronavirus as having been identified as a pandemic by the World Health Organization and having constituting a national emergency by President Donald Trump. Walz has declared a peacetime state of emergency to combat the coronavirus, and temporarily closed bars, restaurants and other public places Monday.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Minnesota Department of Health have advised communities to take aggressive mitigation strategies to slow the growth of the coronavirus.

People are advised to wash hands, cover coughs and stay home when sick. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has recommended avoiding gatherings of 10 or more and keeping a distance of at least 6 feet. People are also advised to avoid unreasonable hoarding and identify and assist vulnerable neighbors, friends and others.

Due to a significant testing shortage, there may be a flattening of positive test results, and more people will be treated via isolation.

Northfield board and commission meetings are canceled until at least the end of April, and library and programming will be closed through March 27. The Police Department has restricted building access and prioritized and modified response protocols. The DMV is open with modified physical distancing for customers.

Councilor Brad Ness noted he has been asked by several businesses to have space reserved in front of their establishments to accommodate the increase in take-out orders. Northfield Police Chief Monte Nelson said businesses don’t have to worry about vehicles being towed during the outbreak.


The U.S. Small Business Administration is preparing to allocate $50 billion to states and U.S. territories by offering low-interest federal disaster loans for working capital. The SBA is working with each state’s governor to issue relief packages to the state’s small businesses.

Michael Hughes / By MICHAEL HUGHES mhughes@northfieldnews.com 

Kate Boland played in 21 of Bemidji State’s 37 games during her freshman season for the Beavers. Boland, a 2019 Northfield High School graduate, is the first Raider to play Division I women’s hockey. (Photo courtesy of BSU Photo Services)