Wright County could be site for massive solar power farms

By John Holler

Contributing Writer

In recent years, wind farms have become much more prevalent, as farm land is used to house dozens of wind mills to generate power. At the Nov. 12 meeting of the Wright County Board, the commissioners head of a plan to create Minnesota’s largest solar collection sites.

Nathan Franzen and Tena Rytel, representing Geronimo Energy, came before the board seeking a letter of support from the county board to submit to the state as part of the Xcel Energy Competitive Resource Acquisition Proposal program, which will be under consideration for approval by the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission. The Edina-based company is looking to get a proposal for the statewide placement of solar collection panels throughout the state, with an emphasis on sites in Wright County.

“The project will bring both temporary and permanent jobs at the sites,” Franzen said. “Our proposal would have three sites in Wright County that will represent 14 percent of our overall project.”

Currently, the largest solar collection farms are two acres in size. All three of the proposed Wright County sites would be larger – 2½ acres near Montrose, a three-acre site near Annandale and a massive 8½ acre site outside of Buffalo.

“By utilizing multiple sites, we will spread the economic benefits across many rural areas,” Franzen said. “The projects will create approximately 800 construction jobs and 30 long-term permanent jobs in the process.”

The project would include the implantation of the solar panels into the ground with support beams that, if and when the project comes to an end, would leave the land in which they’re placed in its original condition.

The board had questions about the proposal that weren’t included in the information packet provided by Geronimo. While the commissioners seemed willing to approve a letter of recommendation for the project, the item was laid over one week for the county to get more information before officially endorsing the project.

In other items on the Nov. 12 agenda, the board:

TABLED approval of signatures on a letter of commitment of funds for a hazard mitigation plan update project. In 2009, a hazard mitigation plan was mandated by FEMA and the plans need to be updated every five years. The projected cost of the update is $52,500, which drew the ire of some of the commissioners, since the initial mitigation plan cost just $24,000. The board requested more information before committing to the 25 percent local match for the project.

AUTHORIZED signatures on a lease agreement between the county and the Greater Twin Cities YMCA concerning that purchase of land and the responsibilities of both parties in the Bertram Chain of Lakes Park area. The documents are updated at the time of each land purchase by the county. To date, Wright County and the City of Monticello have purchased 640 acres of land, approximately half of the land in the proposed parks project.

APPROVED a contract with Xerox Inc. for the county’s Computer Assisted Mass Appraisal (CAMA) program. The county worked with Xerox in 2011 to overhaul its tax programs and this will do a similar turnover of the county’s land appraisal records.

REFERRED discussion of the transition taking place in the county assessor’s office to the personnel committee.

REAPPOINTED Commissioner Mark Daleiden to the Wright County Community Action Board of Directors.

APPROVED the findings of fact concerning the location of County Ditch 38. The ditch is in the process of major repair work and, since the ditch records are nearly 100 years old, the county has hired professional ditch viewers to determine the number of benefitted landowners along the ditch and assign their share of assessments when the ditch work is completed. The project is expected to cost in excess of $100,000.