Agriculture

Clean Energy

Renewable energy technologies are having an increasingly prominent role in energy systems. Utility-scale wind power is the cheapest form of electric generation in the world and the cost continues to go down. The cost of solar is expected to achieve parity with wind in the next couple of years. More projects will come to Stearns County in the future and the County will continue to consider compatible land uses and community benefits as they do. The addition of renewable energy production technologies to a farmer/landowner’s property as an accessory use can add value to the production of the property and make agricultural uses more feasible.



Policies

  1. Site solar energy systems in a way that reduces conflict with adjacent land uses, including but not limited to avoiding areas that will impact future development potential for a municipality.
  2. Continue to require beneficial habitat ground cover on solar sites.
  3. Direct the siting of wind energy to minimize impacts to habitat and natural areas. Local analysis should be considered in regard to nearby rural residences.
  4. Monitor State and Federal policies and programs to determine if any Zoning Ordinance changes need to be made.
  5. Encourage the development and use of renewable energy systems throughout the county, including wind energy and solar energy.

Wind energy production has limited conflicts with many forms of agricultural land uses and has many significant co-benefits with agricultural protection goals. It has a clear benefit of adding to agricultural economic diversity and can produce significant local tax benefits for the County. Primary land use conflicts with wind energy production include natural habitat and rural residences, both of which have a relatively limited presence on agricultural land. Visual impacts of wind energy production may be challenging to mitigate.

Solar energy production can enhance the economic diversity of agricultural operations as well. Visual impacts from solar production can be mitigated and opportunities exist for co-location with agricultural services. Solar development potentially has significant co-benefits with natural resource protection goals when solar array site design guidelines specify perennial ground cover with a mix of native grasses and pollinator flower mixes.

Wind Site Design Land Use Co-Benefits
Wind development has potential co-benefits with economic development goals discussed throughout this Pillar and the Business Pillar.

  • Compatible land use with many forms of agriculture.
  • Clear benefit of adding to agricultural economic diversity.
  • Least costly form of energy generation.
  • Significant local tax benefits.

Solar Site Design Land Use
Solar development potentially has significant co-benefits with natural resource protection goals discussed throughout the Nature Pillar.

  • Best practices for solar array site design specify perennial ground cover.
  • The industry standard has become native grass and pollinator flower mixes.
  • Stearns County was a leader, as the first county in the nation to support co-benefits via an ordinance requiring beneficial habitat ground cover on solar sites.
  • Perennial ground cover improves soil health and reduces erosion potential.
Solar Energy Legislation in Minnesota: In 2013, the Minnesota Legislature enacted a bill that contained several provisions designed to promote the growth of solar energy. Notable statues include:

  • Minnesota Statute 216B.1691, subd 2f. A new law requires Minnesota’s public utilities to generate or procure sufficient electricity from solar sources so that by the end of 2020, at least 1.5 percent of the utility’s retail electricity sales in the state are produced from solar energy. (In computing its standard, a utility must exclude retail sales to iron mining and processing facilities, paper mills, sawmills, and wood product manufacturers.) At least 10 percent of this energy must be generated by facilities with a capacity of 20 kilowatts or less. Public utilities must comply with this solar standard in addition to fulfilling the existing Renewable Energy Standard, which requires that at least 20 percent of electricity sales originate from renewable energy sources by 2020, and 25 percent by 2025 (for Xcel Energy, these percentages are 25 and 30, respectively.).
  • Minnesota State Statue 116C.7792. Beginning in 2014, Xcel Energy, which accounts for approximately half of Minnesota’s retail electricity sales, must provide $5 million in financial incentives annually for five years to promote the installation of solar energy systems in its service area. Eligible systems must have a capacity of 20 kilowatts or less that generate no more than 120 percent of the customer’s on site annual electricity consumption. The incentive is paid for a period of ten years.
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