solar farm moratorium

The Waseca County solar farm moratorium has come to an end with the final vote on the amendment to the Waseca solar farm ordinance. (Bailey Grubish/Waseca County News)

WASECA — The Waseca County solar moratorium has officially ended.

On Sept. 3, the Waseca County Commissioners voted in favor of amending the original setbacks to the solar farm ordinance after months of deliberation.

The ordinance states; “Solar farms are the primary land use for the parcel on which the array is located and are distinguished from solar arrays that are an accessory use. Solar farms are composed of multiple solar panels on multiple mounting systems (poles or racks), and generally have a direct current rated capacity greater than 100 kilowatts. Solar farms are permitted by conditional use permit and/or by zoning permit. All solar panels in the array will be considered a principal use and shall be required to meet the setbacks of a principal structure.”

The board voted and passed three to one, DeAnne Malterer being the nay, in favor of adding more detailed setbacks for residential areas.

The amendment is solar panels have to be 500 feet from a residence in any zone.

Before coming to a conclusion of what the setback should be the commissioners discussed the numerous possibilities.

The first thing discussed was the city council input on the solar setbacks.

The council voted on a 1-mile radius around the city to recommend to the commissioners. Planning and Zoning Administrator Mark Leiferman said that the planning commission didn’t feel that a mile was needed.

The commissioners chose not to take the recommendation of a 1-mile radius around the city from city council.

The amendment setback that have been recently used for solar farms in the county was stated as; “If there is a residence within 500 feet of the proposed solar farm, the property line setback adjacent to the residence shall be increased to 200 feet and the area between the solar farm and the residence shall be landscaped and the landscape plan shall be approved by the Waseca County Board.”

The board chose not to keep this amendment as listed above in the end.

“I just have a problem with what the planning commission has brought forward an I don’t want to criticize by any stretch but its possible to still get a solar field within 240 feet within this set up so I don’t know if this is far enough,” Commissioner Doug Christopherson said. “So I’d like to see a minimum setback.”

“From Planning Commission I know a majority of the members on the commission weighed those two factors the property rights of the person putting in the solar farm and the rights of the neighbors as far as the view,” Commissioner DeAnne Malterer said. “They felt very strongly and they stated that this doesn’t have the smell odor issues that feed lots do and that view should be considered too but it’s not guaranteed. As soon as you make them too big, folks lose the areas that they’re suited for…looking at space and trees of where they go and they felt this was a compromise.”

A lot of the solar farm setbacks will depend on the property topography because not all of them will be visible from the neighbors.

“I think what we’ve seen in all these land issues is that people have a hard time with change, what’s a big deal at the front end isn’t an issue at the back end…,” Malterer said. “We obviously need the code, but we also need to have our residents working with our county staff who have a chance to look at the sites ahead of time to site those in places that are appropriate and case in point we had a couple tough ones in front of us and weather they’re properly in place or not now because they followed the code that wasn’t even in place.”

Leiferman also pointed out that at some point the county is going to have as many solar farms as it can handle.

Further requirements such as landscaping will still be addressed during the conditional use permit application approval process.

Reach Reporter Bailey Grubish at 507-837-5451 or follow her on Twitter @wcnbailey.

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