Related topics

Goodhue County solar boom continues

February 21, 2019 GMT

Editor’s note: A version of this story ran incomplete in yesterday’s edition.

RED WING — Four solar projects were approved, and four more are on the way.

The Goodhue County Board of Commissioners on Tuesday approved four separate, 1 megawatt utility-scale solar arrays by unanimous votes. However, while the commissioners all voted for the four projects, the county has some questions moving forward.

“My worry is 30 years from now we’ll have a bunch of these just sitting around because nobody’s cleaning them up,” Commissioner Barney Nesseth said. “They are full of toxic chemicals, so what are we going to do with them?”


Nesseth said solar panels are made with chemicals such as cadmium compounds, silicon tetrachloride, hexaflouroethane and others.

Solar panels that are in good condition and generating power are fine, Nesseth said, but if old panels aren’t removed from sites later “that’s when the chemicals leech.”

Each of the projects approved Tuesday comes with a decommissioning plan worked out between the landowner and the solar developer who leases the land.

Land Use Director Lisa Hanni said the county has never required a bond for cleanup at the end of the life of a solar site. “We’ve just made sure the landowner has a decommissioning plan with the developers,” she said.

The four solar installations and their 4 megawatts of power will join a growing number of solar projects in Goodhue County.

Currently, the county has 13.088 megawatts of solar power online, not including the 5 megawatts that are part of a Red Wing School District project.

Another 6 megawatts are currently “in progress;” 4 megawatts have been approved, though no building permit has been issued; 4 megawatts have been approved and developers have asked for a one-year extension on the conditional-use permit; and then there are the 4 megawatts approved Tuesday.

If all the projects currently with approved conditional-use permits get built during the summer, Goodhue County would add 18 megawatts to the existing 13.088, Hanni said.

That 31.088 megawatts would be enough to power more than 4,200 homes, according to data from the Solar Energy Industries Association. And that doesn’t include the 4 megawatts that will be brought before the county board next month.

As of the third quarter of 2018, Minnesota had 1,015.42 solar megawatts online, or 11.67 megawatts per county. Goodhue County already tops that amount and is poised to soar past it.


Hanni said the topic of solar power is likely to arise during the March 26 Goodhue County townships meeting. Already the county’s zoning commission has asked about issues such as whether solar arrays should be limited near feedlots.

Three of the projects approved Tuesday will be built on land adjacent to existing utility-scale solar projects.

Hanni said the developers generally work with Xcel Energy to see where the power grid can handle additional capacity. “A big thing we hear from the developers is how close they are to the connection,” she said.

The existing solar arrays are already in a good spot, so as long as the capacity has not been reached, it makes sense for developers to go back to landowners who’ve already leased acreage for solar gardens.