2/16/2017 1:16:00 PM Chisago County takes pride in being dubbed 'Solar Capitol of Minnesota'
Solar energy has had a few strong years-- especially in Chisago County-- while an estimated 50 percent of the U.S. coal fired plants have closed since 2010. Tax and investment incentives and local cooperative projects between traditional energy distributors and the solar generating industry have resulted in solar power becoming part of the local landscape.
Still, the long term feasibility of solar as an alternative energy source is not assured. The 2007 Supreme Court may have ruled the federal government must regulate greenhouse gases to reduce their impact as a pollutant-- but the big question local officials grapple with is-- will states and local government have more of a say or less influence on solar under the Trump Administration?
Chisago County estimates about $350,000 in prodution tax revenues to be created by the county’s solar projects.
The leaseing of the land has put money in farmers’ pockets where soils were not considered to be premium quality. As Chisago County Environmental Services and Zoning Director Kurt Schneider put it, “We are experiencing the planting of a new crop.”
County officials recently shared Chisago County’s experience with solar at a conference of Minnesota counties (the presentation is on the county website co.chisago.mn.us)
Local officials explained Chisago became such a solar energy generating hub (it was dubbed the capital of MN solar) because of a variety of factors. They cited the large electric substation in Lent Township as a major plus in solar developers list of needs for connecting to the electric grid.
There was also the leadership factor, as area environmentalists successfully led citizen efforts that halted energy facilities that relied on fossil fuels. The “Chisago Project” in the 90s involved a massive new then-NSP powerline route, that eventually resulted in the legislature mandating certain-sized energy projects must smeet conditions for a “Certificate of Need.” And there was the Sunrise River natural gas and oil-fired peaking plant, also opposed locally.
The message was imprinted on policymakers here that constituents supported alternative “clean” energy.
Environmental Services Director Schneider said the county was positioned to welcome solar before he was hired to direct the county department. There was already a level of comfort with solar due to Chisago Lakes Area School District 2144 installing very visible solar collectors atop the middle school.
Lindstrom stepped up and put solar power atop its liquor store and city hall.
Chisago County’s Household Hazardous Waste Facility, in North Branch, had a solar power array on its rooftop in 2011.
County Administrator Bruce Messelt said it was an honor to speak at the Association of MN Counties conference in December.
“The county really stepped up to the plate,” and laid a foundation for solar regulation at the local level.
Messelt said much of what the county required of solar developers here is being replicated elsewhere, such as aiming for a more agricultural appearing fencing (deer fence) instead of razor wire-topped chainlink. The “rural look” required of solar panel fields here includes native plantings and accomodating the pollinators.