by Dennis Dalman
A solar-garden project developer, Enterprise Energy, was granted a second interim-use permit at a public hearing held by the Sartell City Council at its Jan. 8 meeting. The permit was approved unanimously.
The land is owned by the Weyer family. A previous permit, also to Enterprise Energy, was granted for a separate solar garden on property that is owned by Mayor Ryan Fitzthum.
The large tract of Weyer land on which the solar garden will be located is north of 17th Avenue N. and near Pinecone Road N. not too far from Pinecone Central Park. The land, which was annexed from LeSauk Township into the Sartell city limits, is zoned as Single-Family Residential.
The interim-use permit was granted to Evan Carlson, owner of Enterprise Energy of Minneapolis. Carlson had applied for both permits months ago, but the process was delayed by a temporary city moratorium on solar-power developments and other issues.
The Jan. 8 permit was approved with the stipulation Carlson would give the city a letter of credit as a kind of insurance for a future decommission process. The amount of the letter of credit would be $776,000. “Decommissioning” means that after 35 years of the solar-garden development (or after 12 years of non-usage), all structures and equipment must be removed and the land restored to its original state. Carlson has submitted to the city a very technical and detailed methodology for a decommissioning process.
An interim-use permit is actually a kind of “cousin” of the more-common conditional-use permit. An interim-use permit places time restrictions on a project – in this case, up to 35 years.
The facility, containing long rows of solar panels, will be capable of producing up to 5 megawatts of electricity. It will be constructed by Energy Enterprise LLC on that property. (It was learned on Jan. 15, seven days after the council meeting, in an email from Mayor Ryan Fitzthum, that the property in question does not belong to him (Fitzthum). That is something that was not mentioned or made apparent at the Jan. 8 council meeting.)
The solar garden will be developed on 22.4 acres of land known as the “Weyer property.”
Sartell Community Developer Kari Theisen, who gave background to the council about the permit application from Carlson, noted there are three other solar-garden operations in Sartell. With Carlson’s developments, the total megawatt output will be 10 megawatts in the city. That is the maximum amount for solar-garden output in the city under terms of a solar-ordinance approved by the council a few months ago. One megawatt is equal to 1 million watts of electric power as generated by a traditional power plant or a solar garden.
The permit requires many stipulations and restrictions on Carlson’s part. They include visual screening, setback distances from other city amenities (such as parks, roadways and more), vegetation maintenance and a plan for decommissioning.
At the Jan. 8 council meeting, Carlson was the only member of the audience who opted to speak to the council. He outlined some of the features of his construction plan, including a fence to keep deer out but one that would allow access to smaller critters.
Construction of the many solar gardens’ photo-voltaic panels at the site is expected to begin this coming spring.