Mayor's Blog October 23, 2020

Mayor's Blog October 23, 2020-Ground Mounted Solar Systems

At the October 19, 2020 Council meeting, there was an agenda item that was of interest to many of our residents, particularly those in the Agricultural Preserve Zoning District.

The Council was asked to approve a site plan for a large 36 acre ground-mounted solar energy system near Co Rd 92 and West Highland Road.

So how did this come about?

In July 2015, when the City Council revised its solar ordinance, there were numerous inquiries received from residents who wanted to install solar panels on their property. At the time, the City ordinance only allowed for roof mounted panels and not ground mounted panels. The revised solar ordinance was approved unanimously by the City Council in 2015.

Rather than having our residents go through a costly variance process, the Council decided to revise the ordinance allowing for certain ground-mounted solar energy systems. One of the concerns was the aesthetics of these types of structures. We had other concerns and attempted to incorporate them into the revised ordinance, as well.

The issue Council saw with this specific application was the size, location and topography of the property. The ordinance specifies that these types of structures must be screened. We incorporated this standard into the ordinance in order to maintain the integrity of our rural areas, for the protection of neighboring properties, and to keep in alignment with Minnetrista’s mission statement.

The rolling topography and the size of the proposed site made it inherently impossible to adequately screen the ground-mounted solar system from neighboring properties and view sheds.

The Council also felt it wasn’t in accordance with Minnetrista’s Comprehensive Plan to protect our agricultural land for farming and preserve the rural quality and character we all enjoy.

I recommended that we impose a moratorium on ground-mounted solar systems for the time being, giving the city time to review and modify the ordinance. Staff was directed by the Council to come back with a resolution including the findings of fact and a second ordinance imposing a moratorium for ground mounted solar systems in the Agricultural Preserve Zoning District. While we want to encourage renewable energy, we also need to make sure that size and location are appropriate.