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Regulating renewable energy in the county

By Staff | Jul 22, 2016

An ordinance was passed, a donation was requested and a permit was granted at the Faribault County Courthouse Tuesday, as the county commissioners tackled a busy slate at their latest meeting.

In development since late 2015, Planning and Zoning’s Renewable Energy Ordinance was enacted by a unanimous vote from the board, putting into effect a policy that adds solar energy regulations to the county’s previous standards on wind energy systems.

“Basically, completing it was just taking the wind ordinance and adding the solar information,”?said Planning and Zoning’s Michele Stindtman, accompanied by Brandee Douglas.

Prior board meetings, as well as a June 14 public hearing with the planning commission, helped carve out the nuances of the new ordinance, which divides permitted solar energy systems into different categories.

“There are permitted uses, commercially permitted uses and ‘not allowed,'”?Stindtman said. “The permits deal with small systems, large systems and those which are small enough not to require a permit.”

Each classification is determined by varying measurements of solar systems’ size and energy output, whereas the wind system guidelines remain largely untouched in the new ordinance.

“Nothing was proposed to be changed for that, and nothing was changed outside of some grammatical or formatting errors,” Stindtman said.

On the condition that the word “advertising” is inserted ahead of the word?”deflectors” in the ordinance’s list of banned solar energy system accessories, the board approved the policy, establishing that all county systems shall now comply with the standards.

Stindtman also received support to obtain a conditional use permit on behalf of the city of Wells. With city administrator Robin Leslie by her side, Stindtman requested use of a Clark Township space for “temporary city, county, utility and MnDOT projects and auctions, excluding livestock.”

Located in the A-2 General Agriculture District off 560th Avenue, the space could soon be home to some large-scale third-party auctions, according to Leslie.

“We have one party interested in doing a machinery sale there,”?she said, “and I?think the sales will have a lot of stuff and bring a lot of people.”

Another unanimous vote approved the request, but it also prompted a discussion on apparent double standards in the issuing of conditional permits.

“I’m not going to stand in the way of this today,”?Commissioner Tom Warmka said, “but I?want to know why CUPs shouldn’t be at all the places that aren’t compliant there.”

Commissioner Tom Loveall, pushing the discussion toward the vote that granted Wells the CUP, reminded Warmka that he was once “down on Michele”?for a potential excess of permit regulations.

“I was down on Michele because ITC had to get a CUP in Winnebago but not in Wells,” Warmka responded. “So let’s get the record straight.”

Alluding to a permit-less lagoon and rifle range among other areas in Wells, Warmka suggested that Tuesday’s vote should set the tone for more consistency in the process moving forward.

“If it’s good for one, it’s good for all,”?he said.

The board also heard another request at its meeting, this one from outside the hands of Planning and Zoning.

Shelly Larsen, newly appointed coordinator for Blue Earth Area Mentors (BEAM), attended with Mary Jo Volkman, of Albert Lea’s Success Through Adults Reaching Students (STARS) mentoring program, to request $6,000 in funding for the year.

“We are asking for $3,000 for BEAM and $3,000 for STARS,”?Larsen said. “For BEAM, that would go toward our annual budget of about $11,000 to $12,000 and help us expand to Winnebago and Elmore, to enhance county activities and further our mission and mentorships.”

Commissioner John Roper identified himself as a strong proponent of the idea, informing the board that he encouraged locally funded programs like BEAM to ask the county for assistance.

But both BEAM and STARS would have to jump through some hoops in order to secure financial assistance from the county.

“We’d ask for a copy of your financial statements if a donation would be part of your budget,” Commissioner Bill Groskreutz said.

And as much as the organizations’ family-oriented service is recognized by the community, Warmka added that neither he nor the board could guarantee BEAM or STARS would receive any of their requested money.

“We appreciate the work you do,”?he said, “but I’m a little cautious of putting local dollars into it, because we cannot fund them all and become our own United Way.”

A final decision on donations to the nonprofits could come in August, when the board is scheduled to engage in budget meetings.

At Tuesday’s session, the county commissioners also:

Amended Gertrude Paschke’s July 5 appointment as the new county assessor, replacing the official swearing-in with the date Paschke obtains licensure as an accredited assessor a date that Central Services director Dawn Fellows said should come “by the end of the month.”

In the meantime, the board moved to approve Paschke as the acting department head.

Held a public hearing for Don and Kyle Chirpich, who have proposed the construction of a feedlot in Dunbar Township.

The planned facility would contain 2,400 swine, and the total animal capacity of the building “will be 940 animal units.”

The board supported the Chirpichs’ proposal and wished them well for the remainder of the process.