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October 19, 2018

1/19/2018 3:25:00 PM
Citizens to press for halt on all solar array permits

The County Board will be receiving a request at the Board meeting this week from residents who want the solar array ordinance placed on-hold-- halting any new applications until a revised code can be adopted.  

The authority granted by the solar ordinance, to regulate arrays of less than 50 megawatts power generating capacity,  is currently under review by county environmental services and the planning commission.  The same petitioners as those seeking the moratorium also initiated the review of the solar array ordinance the County Board recently agreed to.

The letter requesting the moratorium is signed by John Chrun and Angel Phillips Permaloff, of Franconia Township.

The halt would affect Conditional Use Permits as well as the administrative approvals for smaller sites that fall under staff authorized permits (array footprint of less than 20 acres.)

Citizens would feel better- protected if the County Boar put a moratorium in place, the two explained in their request letter.  There’s been concern over a “new” solar array (paperwork was submitted last year) application showing up on the February 1 county planning commission agenda.  

The application for the array at 25499 Olinda Trail was deemed incomplete, however, and the hearing advertisement was premature. An e mail to Permaloff from county zoning offices January 12,  stated the solar array permit applicants reportedly are now aiming to complete the application in time for a public hearing for the planning commission’s March meeting.  

The County Board will be hear that a moratorium is needed so that this permit-- or others sites applied for while the ordinance is still being reviewed --  aren’t able to avoid being held to any new standards adopted in solar development code.

Chrun and Permaloff wrote to the Board,  “The immediate benefit of a moratorium or repeal (of existing code) would be to preclude the intentional submittal ...solely for the purpose of being reviewed under the standards of the current solar ordinance.”

Any Moratorium placing a freeze on a specific land use is guided by state law.  A public hearing must be held.  There needs to be an expiration date for the freeze.  

Additionally the two residents submitting the letter, will ask for the county to “suspend” review underway on any pending solar array projects.  County Attorney Janet Reiter was contacted about this step, and  said she would not provide a legal opinion directly on an issue like this at this time.

Chrun and Permaloff  petitioned for the moratorium “on behalf of concerned citizens of Franconia Township.”  Franconia has seen a number of arrays due to the electric grid substation proximity to land that’s available for “solar farms.”

Franconia Township Supervisors have reportedly expressed local support by way of a Township resolution instituting a solar array moratorium;  but this is also legally unclear because Franconia zoning matters are handled through Chisago County Environmental Services and the county planning commission processes Franconia permits.  

The Chisago County Board recently directed the county planning department to undertake a review of the solar code; in response to complaints from citizens who are seeking changes in the process.  

Among many problems citizens are identifying with the county code:  residents ask for notification on administrative approval permits, and want to see greater restrictions and conditions on the array development.  

The administratively-reviewed smaller arrays allowed at less than 20 acres, ideally should also be under the process used for Conditional Use Permits.  

Citizens also have asked for a cap on the number of arrays allowed in certain parts of the county, arguing that there is a saturation point where the installations bring a negative impact on quality of life.  The county also needs to undertake a study of array impacts on everything from wildlife corridor movement to property value.

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Ron Rollins for Sheriff

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