By Terry Lehrke, News Editor
Within its land use ordinance, Morrison County defines how land may be used. If a land use standard is not on its list, it is prohibited — such as the possibility of using land for a solar energy “farm.”
A solar energy farm would be an area of land with rows of solar panels installed to harness the energy from the sun.
In early February, a public hearing was held regarding the addition of solar energy projects to the county’s land use ordinance.
Amy Kowalzek, Morrison County’s Planning and Zoning administrator, said the county had been approached with a large solar energy project.
“Right now, we prohibit those, so that’s what precipitated the addition to the ordinance of these standards, because we do outline in our comprehensive plan that renewable energy is a priority and we do address wind energy, we just simply didn’t address solar energy. We went through the exercise of developing solar standards to enable solar projects within Morrison County,” she said.
Once the county has standards in place, Kowalzek said it is expected a solar energy company will come forward with a conditional use permit request for such a project.
During February’s public hearing, a number of comments were submitted regarding the land use ordinance amendment. Tuesday, the County Board reviewed the comments during a work session and decided on several changes regarding setbacks, wildlife, glare and fees.
“Because we have a military base and an airport, one of their biggest concerns was that this was going to be a glint or glare issue for aviation,” said Kowalzek. “And, say you have 10 acres of field and break that up with solar panels, what impact does that have on wildlife and natural resources. We want to do due diligence to address those in the ordinance.”
Because some significant changes were made to address concerns, Kowalzek said another public hearing will be held during the Tuesday, March 18 County Board meeting.
If there is no public comment to drive the need to change the ordinance again, Kowalzek said the Board intends to adopt those standards that day as well.
Any large solar project would be confined to districts zoned commercial or agriculture, Kowalzek said. Rezoning would have to occur for a large solar project on any land currently zoned otherwise.
For large projects like a solar energy farm, a conditional use permit will be required, as well as a public hearing. “So the public does have an opportunity to comment on those,” said Kowalzek. “It’s not like just because we put these standards in, tomorrow they’re going to start construction — it doesn’t work that way.”
In the event a conditional use permit is requested, residents within a half mile radius of a proposed project would be notified and a public hearing held.
“There will still be an opportunity for the public to weigh in on these large projects,” she said.