Our friends at the Center of the American Experiment picked up the story about Minnetrista’s solar gardens on Ag Preserve land. As usual they did a better job than I could of laying it out: https://www.americanexperiment.org/2020/10/residents-opposition-leads-minnetrista-to-slap-moratorium-on-solar-projects/
The proposal for the ground mounted solar farm on the Ag Preserve parcel was soundly defeated last night at Minnetrista’s council meeting. At one point during the online meeting I counted 30 people on the call and the council received a steady stream of letters of opposition since the proposal appeared here on October 7.
The issue wasn’t around the pros or cons of solar energy production, it was about a 2015 ordinance, passed under the leadership of Lisa Whalen, that made ground mounted solar farms a “permitted use” on Minnetrista’s Ag Preserve parcels without requiring the notification of neighbors, establishing limits or defining other parameters around commercial/industrial uses and visual aesthetics.
The proposal came to the council with a recommendation from the Planning Commission to approve it. Minnetrista council candidate and planning commission member Damian Young voted, along with the entire planning commission to unanimously recommend it’s passage. It was clear from the contents of the council packet for Monday’s meeting that our city attorney had spent considerable time defending the proposal and justifying how it met all the requirements in order to be passed.
I have no doubt, absent resident involvement and their willingness to express their opposition, this proposal would likely have passed last night.
For now the council decided to place a moratorium on ground mounted solar farms on Ag Preserve parcels in order to have time to review the 2015 ordinance and either modify or rescind it.
Knowing what is coming before the council is necessary to protect residents’ interests. Citizen involvement in Minnetrista is important and makes a difference in how our city is governed. It’s not enough to merely post a 200 page council packet on the city’s website or put legal notices in small print in the local newspaper. Minnetrista needs to do a better job engaging and welcoming resident involvement instead of issuing veiled threats to council members that do.
I posted my concerns here about what appears to be a commercial/industrial ground mounted solar farm proposed to be located on an Ag Preserve parcel in Minnetrista. Some neighboring property owners were concerned they hadn’t been notified by the city and feared they might not be heard on the matter. I met with them and then notified residents via Nextdoor and Facebook about the proposal coming before the council tonight, Monday, October 19 at 7pm (Directions to Join the online meeting here).
Below is a post on Lisa Whalen for Mayor’s Facebook page this morning making a veiled threat that an open meeting law violation may have occurred by my engaging with residents.
Implying I may have violated the open meeting law by notifying people of this agenda item and the concerns I have about it is just an intimidation tactic which shows how closed and controlling this administration is. The term “open” as used in the “open meeting law” is meant to make sure decisions are not made behind closed doors by a quorum of council members. The only thing I’m guilty of here is making sure residents are aware of this agenda item. That is not a violation of being “open.” It is the very essence of being open.
Trying to silence those that see things differently has been a hallmark of Minnetrista’s current administration. Thank you Mayor Whalen for giving us such a great example of it.
I wrote previously about the ground-mounted solar farm proposal here located in Minnetrista on an Ag Preserve parcel on the NE corner of Highland Road West & CR 92. The council has received a number of emails from neighboring residents regarding the proposal. For those wishing to speak at the council’s “Persons to be heard” session Monday night during the virtual meeting (not at city hall) below is the call in information:
To listen live to the Minnetrista City Council meeting, call +1 (872) 240-3212 and enter meeting Access Code 646-482-261 #, or join the meeting from your computer, tablet or smartphone by accessing the following: https://global.gotomeeting.com/join/646482261
New to GoToMeeting? Get the app now and be ready when your first meeting
It’s not required but will speed up the meeting if those wishing to speak would send their names and telephone numbers (so you can be identified on the call) to our City Administrator Mike Barone, email: firstname.lastname@example.org
For those wishing to see the information provided to the council on this proposal, the council’s packet can be found here. The proposal agenda item begins on page 49.
I met with some very concerned residents this morning on West Highland Road just east of CR92 to look at a 38 acre parcel zoned Agricultural Preserve that is a proposed site of what appears to be a commercial-industrial, ground mounted solar farm. I reviewed the September 28 Planning Commission meeting packet where it was addressed starting on page 24 and where a detailed site map appears on page 39 (also below):
I was somewhat surprised at the City Planner’s recommendation that appeared on page 27: “Recommended Action: Motion to recommend the City Council approve the requested site plan for a ground-mounted solar energy system …” and even more surprised to find out the Planning Commission had voted unanimously to recommend its approval to the city council. There was enough concern at that meeting, however, to make another motion, which passed, to ask the council for clarification about the intent of a 2015 ordinance that apparently allows this. The matter should be coming before the council likely as soon as October 19.
Interestingly in 2015 the Minnetrista city council, at the time, adopted an ordinance making ground mounted solar energy systems a “Permitted Use” on properties zoned Agriculture Preserve. On most other rural properties however (other than Ag Preserve) a conditional use permit is required for ground mounted solar energy systems.
My concerns about this specific proposal are many as I’ve outlined below:
- This appears to be a commercial or industrial use which directly conflicts with Ag Preserve zoning. Minnetrista’s history of granting properties the Ag Preserve status has always been to maintain the rural ambiance of our community and the preservation of agricultural land for farming, not to promote it’s use as an industrial or commercial eyesore.
- A “Permitted Use” doesn’t require the notification of surrounding properties but the size of this particular plan has already made neighboring residents concerned about its aesthetics and the impact of this use on the market valuation of their properties within its site line. I believe the council should discuss amending the 2015 ordinance, rescind it entirely or at least make these systems require a conditional use permit so impacted properties can weigh in.
- Other cities that have allowed ground mounted solar farms have experienced problems when the companies involved either dissolve or disappear leaving the city to dispose of out-dated systems that can’t be recycled or easily removed. It can end up being an expensive burden to the city. Requiring a deposit sufficient to pay for the complete removal of the system should be part of any systems the city allows.
Renewable energy production is something we all support but we also need to preserve our rural agricultural and farming communities and the beautiful landscapes we all so enjoy in Minnetrista.
Residents interested in being heard on this matter can send an email to Minnetrista’s City Administrator, Mike Barone: email@example.com requesting 3 minutes at the “Persons to be heard” part of the city council meeting when it is scheduled.
Thank you Corcoran Councilor Jon Bottema for digging into this important topic. It is relevant for all cities. Corcoran is lucky to have a council member that cares enough about his community to do his homework.
This letter was sent to the Crow River News
by Jon Bottema, Corcoran City Council member.
I read in this paper a week ago that a solar farm company is asking St. Michael to re-allow community solar gardens into their town, and it would add another to our region. I became more interested in the topic when Corcoran was given an application for a community solar garden a couple years ago.
As a Corcoran City Councilman, I felt compelled to look into it.
I wanted to be thorough, so I began by reading the community solar proposals presented to other cities in Minnesota. I read thousands of pages of documents, and I watched hundreds of their city council minutes. Every solar company had the same pitch. So many red flags kept coming up! I was losing sleep, staying up till early In the morning trying to figure this out. I am not an authority on this topic; however, as a financial analyst, I could see that some things did not add up.
As part of the application process, a community considering incorporating a solar garden also gets a decommissioning plan: what happens if the solar farm goes bankrupt or ceases to function. The decommissioning plan submitted to us had Corcoran MAKING money if the company went out of business. I wondered how that could even be possible. Many towns have put themselves in financial danger, finding out too late that this it is NOT. Therefore, I would like to present to you some truths I discovered about this and other myths perpetuated by the Met Council, The League of Minnesota Cities, and especially the solar companies themselves before anyone makes a decision about community solar gardens.
Myth #1. The solar panels are recyclable. Solar panels used in community solar gardens are NOT RECYCLABLE according to the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) and the International Energy Agency. Though these organizations are actually advocates for solar energy, within their own documents they speak of “recycling in the future” and the “need for recycling plants.” The US, Germany, and China are the biggest users of solar panels, and none of us have figured out how to recycle them. The solar companies say that “most of the materials in solar panels are recyclable.” That is true. The non-recyclable materials make up about one percent of the weight of the panels. However, the non-recyclables are intertwined with the recyclables, and there is no technology to separate the materials. So, by weight, a majority of the panel is made of recyclable materials; however, none of the panel is recyclable because they can’t separate the non-recyclable heavy metals imbedded throughout. It’s like saying a nuclear warhead is recyclable because it is made mostly of steel, copper and aluminum. We all know that that cannot be true. Ironically, a nuclear warhead is actually more recyclable than a solar panel because you CAN actually separate the nuclear components from the non-nuclear components.
Myth #2. Solar panels are landfill friendly. Even the solar companies’ internal publications. say they are not. I called every landfill within 100 miles of Corcoran, and all of them said flat out that they would not take them. Hennepin County works with many haulers, and they said they did not know what to do with the panels. I spoke with the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA), which I learned controls everything that can and cannot go into a landfill. Before things can be determined ‘landfill friendly,’ they must pass a ‘leach test;’ the material is ground into a million pieces (similar to how it would be handled in a landfill), wet down, then checked to see if any hazardous material seeps out. The big solar panels have not been leach tested in Minnesota. The panels are, in fact, hazardous waste and would have to be buried in a hazardous waste landfill. There aren’t any in Minnesota, but there is one in Wisconsin and one in North Dakota. They will take them, but it typically costs over a dollar a pound to bury things there. Most community solar gardens contain over a million pounds of that sort of material. In some proposals, solar companies state that their panels have undergone a leach test. This is a little deceiving because what they have undergone is a ‘standing leach test,’ which is significantly different than the leach test described above. The panels are left intact and sprayed with water, and then the water is tested for hazardous materials. The standing leech test actually has no bearing on if the material is landfill friendly. The panels must be subjected to actual landfill conditions, replicated in the leach test, and, again, these panels have not, so the solar companies have no way of knowing If their panels are landfill friendly.
Myth #3. Used Solar panels can be resold. Some solar companies include in their figures a resale value of the solar panels. In the case of decommissioning a solar farm, the solar company leads the city to believe that it can sell the used solar panels and make money on them. Most decommissioning plans include an engineering company’s analysis of what the solar panels will be worth in about five years. For a couple of reasons, the panels are not worth much in five years. Technology is constantly advancing, so who would want five-year-old solar panels? That would be like buying a five-year-old iPhone. And- this is a big one- there actually isn’t a market for used solar panels. They are not bought and sold in any public fashion. One engineering firm that has been included in many solar companies’ proposals stated that they got the resale value of the used panels from the solar company; another said they hoped a secondary market would develop for the panels. I asked both if they would stand by their numbers if asked. Both said no.
Myth #4. The industry is safe. Solar gardens are very new, and the players change all the time. The industry is heavily subsidized and requires these subsidies to stay afloat. There have already been bankruptcies in the leading solar manufacturers and solar companies; in the case of a bankruptcy, it’s important to know that our town is number seven in line for any claims from a bankrupt company. We come after:
- Secured Claims;
- Administrative Expenses;
- Post-petition Unsecured Claims;
- Employee Benefits; and
- Tax Claims.
- Bottom line: we would not see a penny from them.
Most presentations give the town the impression of some sort of protection by saying things like, “We are a wholly owned subsidiary of XYZ company; they have a huge balance sheet and have been around for 100 years.” Keep in mind that bankruptcies of a company that is a wholly owned subsidiary do not travel up to the parent company’s balance sheet. Essentially, the statement means nothing and offers no protection to our towns.
I could go on.
I own many solar devices, so this is not a blanket indictment on the industry or harvesting the sun’s energy. It’s hard not to get excited about the idea of saving the planet. When I read these solar companies’ proposals, though, it sounded too good to be true. The fact is, it is. The fact is that solar companies are deceiving small towns into picking up a liability that they may not be prepared to handle. The fact is that solar farming can cost the city a lot of money. The fact is that it’s hard to find the time to dig deep into some of these issues, but let this be a starting point. Do your own research, and encourage others to do the same. Make an informed decision.
Corcoran City Council in Minnesota