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Goodhue County tables new solar ordinance

RED WING — The Goodhue County Board tabled consideration of a new solar energy ordinance on Tuesday in order to allow citizens and townships time to weigh in on the topic.

County officials say they have received several inquiries from local companies interested in developing commercial solar projects. Some small residential solar projects have previously been approved, but county officials have told the companies that large projects are not a permitted land use.

On Aug. 18, the Goodhue County Planning Advisory Commission held a public meeting in Red Wing to discuss the draft ordinance, but the meeting was sparsely attended. The issue hasn't generated nearly the public interest or opposition that wind turbines and silica sand have in recent years, but commissioners said it was important to give the public a chance to weigh in.

"We just didn't get word out to the townships quick enough," Commissioner Dan Rechtzigel said. "We want to make sure we get public comment."

Interest in large solar energy projects is being spurred by a state mandate that public utilities generate 1.5 percent of their energy by solar power by the end of 2020.


But the growing solar industry faces some kinks in the permitting process. The Aurora Solar project is attempting to be permitted through the state by combining numerous small projects, including two in Goodhue County, from around the state to meet the 50 megawatt threshold. If that isn't allowed, Goodhue County would become the permitting authority.

The Pine Island City Council recently sent a letter to the PUC requesting to be more involved in Aurora's planning process. Mayor Rod Steele said that officials from Aurora have only communicated with the city via letter rather than having a face-to-face discussion about siting, size, setbacks and other potential issues.

Last month, the Zumbrota City Council also sent a letter to the PUC saying it has "concerns" with the site selected by Aurora officials, because of the "proximity of a portion of this project to the City of Zumbrota and potentially detrimental impacts on the future land use of this area."

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