By Nicole Brodzik
The Carver County Board of Commissioners denied a request for conditional use permit for Minnesota Solar request for a 4 megawatt community solar garden.
The group had hoped to put the solar garden in Watertown Township, on Polk Avenue outside Mayer. The solar garden request is part of a solar garden project run by Xcel Energy.
The commissioners had a number of questions about the project for the applicants, including Commissioner Randy Maluchnik who asked about the effect this project could have on area farms.
“So let’s say a farmer has five or six cows and they stop producing, or what I was told by some farmers, they develop some type of disease,” he said. “If that happens, what does he do? How does this work if there’s a problem?”
The project managers said they were confident that would not be a problem, but that if something did go wrong, their grid would shut down quickly. They added that if there were monetary damage, done, they would be willing to work those issues out with the farmers.
Commissioner Gayle Degler asked about how monitoring would happen to ensure safety at the grid.
“It only takes on installer to not tighten something enough, and with the environmental conditions, warming and heating, wires do flex over time and that nut that was tight when I first installed it, now is loose,” he said. “I wanted to see if you would be willing to monitor on the grid.”
The company said the system self monitors, shutting down within seconds if it detects something has done wrong, and that Xcel Energy could step in if they feel things are not working properly.
Minnesota Solar’s Attorney Karla Vehrs, also spoke at the meeting, bringing up a part of the law that says that it is not right to deny solar gardens, like the applicant has proposed, without giving a list of conditions that applicant could work to meet in order to be compliant.
“As commissioners are well aware, this is not the first time members of the community have voiced opposition in regards to stray voltage at a community solar garden, but you’ve heard testimony as to why that’s not a legitimate concern with this project especially,” she said.
She then suggested conditions be imposed on the conditional use permit, saying she believed that would be proper legal result and that she did not believe stray voltage concerns were a valid reason to deny the request.
Maluchnik said that he believed the law left it up to commissioners to make the final decision on these kinds of applications.
Degler said he doesn’t see how it’s possible that they can gaurantee there won’t be any issues and that the application is too generic. For that reason, he didn’t believe it was a good fit with the neighborhood and nearby dairy farm.
The city also held a public hearing, with many residents being concerned about the possibility of the solar garden as well.
Vice-chair James Ische made a motion to deny the request, in part due to concerns over stray voltage issues and decreased property values. That motion passed with a 3-2 vote.