WORTHINGTON — Eight months after the Nobles County Planning Commission conducted its second public hearing on a proposed solar ordinance, the commission met via Zoom on Wednesday for a third and final hearing.

Initially planned in March, the third hearing was delayed by the COVID-19 global pandemic. Planning and Zoning Administrator Kathy Henderschiedt said she’d hoped to bring the group together for an in-person meeting this summer, but with staff working from home for a time and requirements on social distancing, that didn’t happen. She decided to bring the commission together virtually to act on the ordinance and advance it to county commissioners for consideration.

The eight-page document was approved by the planning commission Wednesday with little discussion, and is slated to be on Tuesday’s county board agenda.

During the eight-month delay in completing the public hearing process, Henderschiedt said she hadn't been contacted by anyone expressing interest in building a solar farm in Nobles County. Projects have been constructed, or are in the planning process, in neighboring counties, however.

“Without an ordinance in place, there’s no guidance,” said Henderschiedt. “This lays it all out for them. If they’re looking to site something on a large-scale level, this gives them the idea of what to look for in order to place it.”

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The ordinance addresses everything from definitions of solar farm sizes to site plan requirements, permitted and conditional use requirements, setbacks and decommissioning.

“Some of the neighboring counties’ ag producers are looking to put up solar panels on their sites to offset their expenses,” Henderschiedt said. “(Whether it’s) roof-mount, side-mount or pole-mount, (the ordinance) provides details for all of those.”

Nobles County Environmental Services spent a year developing the ordinance, which was fashioned after a template written by the state. Much of the language is patterned after ordinances already adopted in nearby counties of southwest Minnesota to create consistency.

The only known solar farm in Nobles County is a 20-kilowatt project constructed at Nobles Cooperative Electric’s site north of Worthington in 2014. That project was approved through a conditional use permit and public hearing process.

The ordinance spells out two different categories for solar projects — accessory projects of 40 kilowatts or smaller, and large solar energy systems greater than 40 kilowatts.

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 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.

If Nobles County commissioners approve the ordinance on Tuesday, Henderschiedt said she’d like to set an implementation date for the ordinance of Jan. 1, 2021.

A copy of the draft ordinance can be viewed on the Nobles County website under the Environmental Services Department section by visiting co.nobles.mn.us.