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Nobles County Planning Commission considers solar ordinance

First draft presented to Nobles County Planning Commission Wednesday evening covered explanation for the ordinance and definitions of accessory and large-scale solar systems.

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A worker from Hunt Electric stages modules in a solar garden for installation on July 3. Jean Pieri / St. Paul Pioneer Press

WORTHINGTON — Roughly a year after Nobles County Environmental Services began writing an ordinance to address solar projects, members of the county’s Planning Commission met Wednesday to discuss the first draft.

The eight-page document is fashioned after a template written by the state, with much of the language patterned after ordinances already adopted in nearby counties of southwest Minnesota, according to Planning and Zoning Administrator Kathy Henderschiedt.

“The reason for a solar ordinance is just so there are protocols in place should a developer come in,” said Henderschiedt, noting that thus far, her office has not received any requests for large-scale solar operations.

The most recent solar project in Nobles County was the creation of a 20-kilowatt project by Nobles Cooperative Electric at its site north of Worthington in 2014. That project was approved through a conditional use permit and public hearing process.

The newly written draft solar ordinance reviewed by planning commission members Wednesday addresses everything from definitions of solar farm sizes to site plans, setback requirements and decommissioning.

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“The purpose (of the ordinance) is for developers to know ahead of time what our expectations are,” Henderschiedt said. “A lot of times it helps them in siting a project.”

The planning commission settled on two different categories for solar projects — accessory projects of 40 kilowatts or smaller, and large solar energy systems greater than 40 kilowatts.

As currently written, the draft ordinance states conditional use permits will be required for large solar energy projects to be constructed in agricultural preservation, urban/rural residential, general business and general industry districts, while large systems will be prohibited in floodplain management, shoreland and airport approach districts.

Accessory solar projects, as noted in the draft ordinance, will be permitted in agricultural preservation, urban/rural residential, general business and general industry districts, but will need a conditional use permit to be constructed in a floodplain management or airport approach district. Accessory solar projects will not be permitted in shoreland districts.

During the next month, planning commission members will continue to consider the draft ordinance and seek public comment. A second public hearing will be planned in late February.

“If there’s more public input, we could do another draft,” Henderschiedt said.

She would like to have the ordinance ready to present to the Nobles County Board of Commissioners for consideration in April, with possible implementation as early as May or June.

To review a copy of the draft ordinance, visit the Nobles County Public Works facility, 960 Diagonal Road., Worthington. The draft will be accessible for viewing on the Environmental Services page of the Nobles County website (co.nobles.mn.us) in the near future.

Related Topics: ENERGY AND MINING
Julie Buntjer became editor of The Globe in July 2021, after working as a beat reporter at the Worthington newspaper since December 2003. She has a bachelor's degree in agriculture journalism from South Dakota State University.
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