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Should Scott County allow community solar gardens on private rural properties as a permitted land use? If yes, what types of restrictions, if any, do you support to lessen impact to neighboring landowners and the community at large?

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I'm all for it! To design limitations, it would be helpful to know what the potential drawbacks could likely be. I think renewable energy is a necessity and should be embraced. I can think of an 80+ acre site right now that would be a perfect location! This is a site which is attempting permission for a use (gravel mining and asphalt) whose potential operator has admitted it would cause water contamination. Switching that ill-thought plan to this one would be fantastic! I'd love to pursue this and look forward to hearing more on this topic in general, as well. Thanks! I fully support the use of private, rual properties for solar gardens. As for restrictions, it would be nice if property owner would have to provide a natural sight barrier such as a hedge. However, if such a restriction would significantly reduce the planed installations, I would forgo this restriction in favor of increaseing the installed base of solar gardens. I am against supporting this principally because of the size. 20 acres of these would be an ungodly sight. Think about the windmills in the southwest corner of the state and realize that this will be significantly worse. Additionally, it is unclear how the property will be maintained. It isn't clear if the land owner or the leasing company would be responsible but given the investment I suspect a majority of the site maintenance will fall to the leasing company and their interest will be in operating the equipment at peak efficiency instead of weighing the costs of making the field fit in with the surrounding area (can you even say that about 5 to 20 acres of ugly shiny collectors?). I do not know but I wonder what the environmental impact of such a large installation would be. If this goes into a wooded area the loss of trees and wildlife habitat could be a concern. If this goes into open fallow fields than again wildlife habitat. If this goes into productive farm field that we lose the economic value of that land. If this goes into areas that are part of the build out than we lose homestead area for 20 years of longer. Community solar gardens are an awesome opportunity to be able to provide pollution free, carbon free electricity. Climate change is all too real! If you don't understand the need to reduce our nation's contribution of greenhouse gases to our atmosphere you must read the national climate assessment released last year by our nations top agencies and experts at: The underlying value of the land will dictate where these go as the cost for leasing or purchasing land will influence the cost of producing solar derived electricity. So, the concerns about displacing valuable farm land or developable land aren't real. Other factors include proximity to suitable transmission lines and sub-stations. Excellent locations for consideration would be on land that is not suitable for farming or municipal sewer and water extensions and there is such land south of Shakopee. Community solar gardens will require a conditional use permit in cities or townships and conditions to ensure proper screening, erosion control and suitable vegetation are normal conditions, which can be enforced. I'd suggest that solar gardens be included as positive amenities for density credits for land development because they benefit society like parks and open spaces, by reducing air pollution and addressing climate change. I am all for Scott County allowing community solar gardens on private rural properties as a permitted land use. For those rural properties it provides them a secondary stream of income and moves us away from the dirty energy that pollutes our air and water. It'll create jobs and move us to a clean energy economy. By allowing solar gardens in Scott County we can keep more of our hard-earned dollars cycling through the state economy, providing an enormous economic boost and many development opportunities for our county. I am strongly for the development of solar gardens. I believe this is a great way to help ensure a cleaner environment for present and future generations living in Minnesota. Anyone who is opposed to this is self-centered and is certainly not concerned about our state's environment and future generations that will live here. Let's have solar gardens. I believe that community solar gardens are a good idea for private rural properties. The only provision I would include would be a factored percentage of the property on the date that the private agreement was signed. Mainly to ensure that if the company wanted to build 20 acres of solar panels and access roads, then the whole property should be a certain percentage larger than that, mainly to ensure that greenspace is further protected with the agreement. That greenspace would be protected from expansion in the future unless the parcel got larger by acquisitions of adjacent land and only resulted in the same percentages of land usage. The keywords are "private" and "rural". I also think that municipal rooftops should be assessed as well. There shouldn't be a measurable negative environmental impact since most rooftops are just HVAC systems, vents, and rocks. This would capture solar energy normally converted to heat energy by the roof surface and possibly decrease the mid-summer heating bill by limiting the sunload on the roofing. Maybe a multi-site leasing contract between the county and an approved vendor would result in financial benefits due to economy of scale? Maybe the county would be able to utilize that bulk buying power to help control costs to private residents as well. I'm in favor of community solar gardens. Clean energy sources like solar are an important component to our clean energy future. Solar gardens offer an opportunity to support clean energy to people who don't own a home or land. I support solar energy gardens, I think it would have many benefits. Since the government is already requiring power companies like Xcel energy to start using different energy sources it's helpful to start seeing solar energy sites and finding out if or how much they will benefit us. We're not used to seeing them in this area, in fact almost 100% of our power comes from coal. I have travelled to a few places like the U.S. virgin islands where solar power is on top of many roofs used to help power apartment buildings, restaurants, houses, etc... I see it as a start. I am for solar gardens once due diligence is completed. Who has responsibility for the full life cycle? Solar gardens are now possible due to technology. What happens when the technology changes again and the current solar gardens are no longer productive to the standards and no longer benefit the utilities. Now they are just disintegrating on the land and creating more problems. What are the expectations when it goes obsolete? Who has responsibility to remove and fully clean up the site to make it productive again. I believe the utility that gets the benefit of saying they have alternative energy using solar gardens should have the responsibility. Utilities have the expertise, not the private land owner. We need to protect the land owner who has agreed to let the utility use their land. I am in favor of solar gardens, but they should be limited to smaller plots of no more than 20 acres and they should be screened from neighboring residences. Also, there should be requirements to maintain the land cover during the lease and bond requirement for removal of equipment at end of lease if not renewed. I also would suggest that the county put solar on all major roof tops that are county owned where practical. Solar panels used in settings where the aesthetics are already lacking, where they do not pose a threat to habitat or economic development loss, and where they are under the overall maintenance and responsibility of the private owner are ideal in my opinion. To put in rural 20 acres plots of panels would negate all three of these things. You would have the aesthetic loss of looking at shiny metal all the time, habitat would be impeded and fragmented more than it already is in this county and having maintenance responsibilities lying on someone sitting at a desk watching graphs of electrical productivity who has never been to the site, doesn't know what the ground conditions look like or how it affects the surrounding area is a bad idea. Put solar panels in smart places: roof tops, both residential and commercial. Or go one step further and create rooftops out of solar panels for over the increasing number of transit parking lots. It would not deter from aesthetics, habitat or economic value, and it would provide additional protection to vehicles from fading due to sun damage, unfavorable precipitation and help keep them cooler in the summer shade. Solar energy may make sense in desert areas where the land is useless, remote, receives abundant sunshine, with little rainfall or snow. I have seen several thousand acre sites in Nevada and California near the Hoover Dam. On that scale and location it’s more feasible. In contrast, for Minnesota it does not make since to cover prime Minnesota fertile land with plots of solar collectors. Minnesota cloudy days and long winter nights, and snowfall are not good for collecting solar energy. It prevents farming on that land, recreation on that land, and development of that land for people’s use. Solar energy also has the worst safety record of all the types of electric generating technologies, as collectors need to be cleaned of dust, dirt and debris. While some feel that solar energy is a benefit to the economy since sunshine is “free”, it is expensive and cannot make it economically without tax credits and special government treatments. Thus, not only are federal taxpayers on the hook for the tax credits and subsidies that the federal government allows for solar power, but so are state taxpayers whose governments also provide credits for the solar industry. I fully support this and see the need for few, if any restrictions. In addition to the positive benefits of a clean energy source and potential job growth in MN, a fundamental benefit is reducing the dependence on fossil fuels, which are, by their definition, a finite energy source. Solar, for all intents and purposes to life on Earth, is an infinite energy source. To quote a fairly smart man named Thomas Edison, “I’d put my money on the sun and solar energy. What a source of power! I hope we don’t have to wait until oil and coal run out before we tackle that. I wish I had more years left.” Yes, whether it's solar, wind, water, fuel cells, nuclear, some other energy source, or, most likely, a combination of all of those, let's not wait until we burn all the oil and coal to figure it out. I am against solar gardens in Scott County. The theory is great if they are installed in vast areas of open country, but in an area with the population density of this county they will reduce property values of adjacent properties and will result in litigation. They are an eyesore and will not operate efficiently in the long winters we have here. There are many buildings in the county that have adequate roof space to install solar panels but I see very few having solar panels. Why?? Efficiency, installation cost, payback on investment? I do not believe that the county government should have the ability to restrict land use on private rural properties. This would include solar gardens. The other posts to this forum illustrates why giving the county the power to “allow” solar gardens or any other use is a bad idea. Some of the posts are for solar gardens. Other posts are against solar gardens. It is assumed that the government can be used to stop things I do not like and to mandate things I do like. So how do we decide? Majority rule? Why should the majority have a say in how a person uses their land for economic gain? Did the majority pay for the property? Does the majority pay the property taxes? The people against solar gardens seem to fall into three categories. Either they are concerned about the visual nuisance, the drop in adjacent land values and the efficacy of solar power. Let me take the last one first. If you are not paying for the solar garden, you have no input about the effectiveness of solar power. No harm, no foul. The first and the second reason for opposing solar gardens have the same response. If there is a nuisance or they do effect land values, you can first discuss it with you neighbor for a resolution. If that does not adequately address your grievances, you can take them to court, prove damages and receive compensation. This provides a case by case resolution without the county government getting between the people and the economic use of their land. This report is significant to the discussion: Solar Industry Fiascos Continue March 11, 2015 Many Americans are familiar with federal, taxpayer-financed fiascos in the solar industry such as Solyndra and Abound Solar, but they are less familiar with state and local solar projects that have failed. Like federal fiascoes, these local fiascos have also wasted millions in tax money or bond debt that needs to be repaid. Taxpayers in three counties in New Jersey could be on the hook for up to $88 million in bonds that investors hold for a project to put solar panels on schools and other public buildings.[i] In Oregon, state officials wrongly awarded almost $12 million in state tax credits to a solar project based on phony documents. The Oregon project was also plagued by an international trade war, a bitter corporate rivalry and a labor shuffle that resulted in prison labor at 93 cents an hour being substituted for what was supposed to be high-paid Oregon jobs.[ii] All in all, the government-created market for solar power now appears like a free-for-all for companies seeking questionable government deals that in some cases appear fraudulent or run counter to the rules and laws governing projects. The government seems to be aiding and abetting fraudulent behavior as much as it is creating the new “green economy” that so many politicians suggest they are pursuing. In the end, the taxpayer is coming up short. The NJ Solar Project Three counties in New Jersey—Morris, Somerset, and Sussex—borrowed $88 million to install panels on public buildings with plans to pay off the debt using the revenues obtained by selling the excess electricity that was not used by the buildings. Nearly four years later, work has stopped due to cost overruns and lawsuits, leaving taxpayers on the hook for up to $88 million that the counties owe the bondholders if the project does not resume. After a deal was struck with the developer and contractor to add solar panels to 71 public facilities, the market for state solar-energy tax credits, which was a key part of the deal financially, declined steeply—by about 70 percent. When cost overruns occurred and the developer and contractor became embroiled in lawsuits, work stopped on the project. While most of the work in Somerset was completed, only about half was completed in Morris and Sussex counties. The contractor, Power Partners Mastec of North Carolina, was awarded $66.3 million for the solar panels and the installation that had been completed. The counties are trying to salvage the project and are entering into the dispute. A potential bankruptcy could happen, which would complicate matters. While the project in Sussex County is not complete, officials indicate that solar revenues total about $1 million annually. Never the less, the bond payments are a notable chunk of the annual county budgets. In 2014, Sussex paid $2.7 million toward the amount borrowed and still owes $24 million of the $27.7 million it borrowed. Morris made a $3.4 million payment on the bonds last year, which was 10 percent of its $33.1 million bond. And, Somerset paid off $1.3 million of the borrowed $26.8 million. Oregon’s Signature Solar Project Oregon touted that its $27 million collection of solar arrays would be a boon for the economy as well as the environment. For almost $12 million in tax credits, the project developer was to buy and hire local products and labor, create energy savings and jobs, and reduce greenhouse gases. The solar arrays went on line a year ago, generating power at the Oregon Institute of Technology and the Oregon State University. However, state officials had wrongly awarded $11.8 million in state tax credits based on phony documents. Officials at the Oregon University System envisioned 14 solar installations over seven campuses. The University System, however, had no funding, no experience and no in-house talent to develop the project. Instead, the University System was able to use Oregon’s Business Energy Tax Credit program–the most generous state tax incentive program in the nation—obtaining half the cost of the project from Oregon taxpayers. In 2008, the state hired a renewable energy consultant, but the economic downturn and the possibility that the state Legislature was considering killing the tax credit, resulted in the first developer walking away from the project. The second developer picked by the state had no experience in producing successful solar projects and the company went bankrupt. The bankruptcy meant that there was insufficient time for the project to be completed and still legally claim the $11.8 million in state tax credits. However, project backers submitted phony and misleading documents to keep the project alive. Despite no design plans or building permits for the project by the end of 2011, university officials tried to establish that construction had begun in early 2011 in order to receive the tax credits before the deadline and to obtain an extension that was allowed under the state tax program. The documentation provided for the extension was less than required and based on documents that supposedly offered proof that construction on the solar arrays had started in time to make the deadline. But, the documents were not credible. In the spring of 2012, the university system hired its third developer—SolarCity—a company that was in business for five years and supposedly the largest installer of solar systems in the world. Under the new contract, SolarCity would own the project, selling power to the universities to recoup its investment. SolarWorld was to make the solar panels that would provide new jobs. Oregon authorized a $60,000 study that concluded manufacturing solar panels in the state would generate $10 million in local wages. SolarCity and SolarWorld were bitter rivals in an international trade war. SolarWorld was the leader in defending American manufacturing from “illegal trade” by the Chinese that were supposedly selling solar panels below cost. SolarCity, on the other hand, needed the low-cost panels for its business success and was threatened by any effort to stop Chinese solar panels from being sold in the United States. The U.S. Department of Commerce sided with SolarWorld and imposed tariffs on solar panels from China. Despite the tariffs, the Chinese solar panel manufacturers dominated the industry and at least 14 American solar companies went bankrupt or shuttered manufacturing plants. SolarWorld was in a shaky financial position and SolarCity fired the company. SolarCity’s alternative to SolarWorld producing the solar panels was prison labor. A subcontractor was hired to make the panels using inmates that were paid 93 cents an hour to assemble the panels at the Federal Correctional Institute in Sheridan. That was in contrast to SolarWorld’s factory starting pay of $11 an hour. While using prison labor was not what was intended by the tax credit program, state officials knew that prisoners were being used as labor on the project though they did not admit it originally. New Oregon Governor Kate Brown has asked the Oregon Department of Justice to investigate the questionable state tax credit award, but the Justice Department has not indicated whether it will investigate the matter. According to Oregon rules, the Energy Department is to revoke tax credits obtained by fraud; but the Energy Department has no record of going after questionable energy tax credits once they have been issued.[iii] Conclusion While some Americans feel that solar energy is a benefit to the economy since sunshine is “free”, it is expensive and cannot make it economically without tax credits and special government treatments as these examples in New Jersey and Oregon indicate. Thus, not only are federal taxpayers on the hook for the tax credits and subsidies that the federal government allows for solar power, but so are state taxpayers whose governments also provide credits for the solar industry. The “green economy” turns out to be a troubled mix of political connections and fraudulent behavior. [i], Taxpayers in 3 counties could be on hook for millions after solar project fizzles, February 15, 2015, and, Where did the money go?, February 18, 2015, [ii] The Oregonian, Oregon’s signature solar energy project built on foundation of false hopes and falsehoods, February 27, 2015, [iii] The Oregonian, Gov. Kate Brown: Investigate $12 million in tax credits for solar scheme, March 4, 2015, I would say put solar gardens over property that cannot support vegetation like parking lots roadways, buildings. solar panels will block light and vegetation cannot grow. we need all the vegatative process to use up the co2, don't we? I would love to see solar gardens. There is nothing wrong with this at all. This should not even be a problem or discussion frankly. Lets all stick to the more important subjects for our Community rather than find things to complain about.

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Sarah Hanson inside District2

June 14, 2015, 9:55 AM

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