Nicollet County P&Z considers large solar project

NICOLLET COUNTY — The Nicollet County Planning and Zoning Advisory Commission will consider a Conditional Use Permit (CUP) application to establish a large, solar energy system between Courtland and Nicollet at 7 p.m., Monday, March 18.

Baltimore-based Gordion Energy Systems proposes a one-megawatt system on undeveloped, agricultural land along County Road 254, five miles east of Courtland and one and one-half miles southwest of Nicollet. The Swan Lake Outlet of Nicollet Creek is about 1,300 feet east of the property.

The system would provide energy for Xcel Energy’s community solar garden program. The project site was chosen due to its physical characteristics, proximity to Xcel’s existing electrical infrastructure and landowner participation. Property owners are Joel and Anika Enter.

Gordion Energy Systems plans to begin construction in April 2019 and continue for nine months.

The project includes about 4,000 solar panels or modules each containing 72 solar cells made of multi-crystalline silicon.

The system will have an average height of 10 feet above ground and will not exceed the 20-foot height limit allowed by the Renewable Energy Ordinance.

Equipment is designed to withstand winds of up to 90 miles per house and 60 pounds per square foot of snow.

There will be 17 inverters that will feed into an existing Xcel Energy three-phase distribution line. Three utility poles will be located on the right-of-way.

Solar panel class will be coated with an anti-reflective surface treatment. Glare is expected to be minimal.

After construction is done, the site will be remotely monitored around the clock by computer. It will be protected by a six-foot tall chain link fence, topped with a foot of barbed wire. Signs placed on the fence will note “danger, high voltage.”

The front gate will contain a sign identifying emergency contact information. Operations and maintenance technicians will inspect the site twice a year including the modules, electrical equipment, and fence.

The proposal meets or exceeds minimum setback requirements. Required front yard (south) setback if 50 feet, proposed is 650 feet. Minimum east, west and north side yard setbacks are 20 feet. Respective, proposed setbacks are 20, 575 and 880 feet.

It appears the proposal meets all 10 conditional use permit criteria. Recommended conditions include applicant adherence to all applicable Wetland Conservation Act (WCA) requirements. Any wetland area impacts shall be mitigated with WCA standards.

Vegetative cover must be maintained through the system’s lifespan.

No chemicals shall be used to clean modules unless they are a certified, organic product, as proposed by the applicant.

The applicant must verify the facility has a Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) approved Stormwater Pollution Prevention Plan prior to issuance of the zoning permit connected to the CUP.

Parking areas must be onsite, not along the right-of-way. Erosion and sediment control best management practices such as fiber logs and silt fences will be used during construction. To help reduce erosion, a pollinator-friendly, vegetative base will be established under the project site prior to construction starting. Seeding will begin as soon as the weather allows.

Gordion Energy will establish a financial security payable to the landowner to cover decommissioning and site restoration. Security will be an escrow account, letter of credit, bond or corporate guarantee.

Total decommissioning costs are estimated at $87,767. Salvage value is estimated at $86,126, meaning the net decomissioning cost is estimated at $1,641.

The Nicollet County Planning and Zoning Advisory Commissioner meets in the County Board Room at the Nicollet County Government Center, 501 S. Minnesota Ave., St. Peter. The next county board meeting is Tuesday, March 26.

Fritz Busch can be emailed at