Proposal would ease solar energy rules to allow more ag

Scandia is going to take another look at commercial solar energy.

During a public comment period at last week’s council meeting, the Scandia City Council heard a pitch from resident Michael Lubke asking the city to consider amending its solar energy ordinance to ease some of its existing restrictions.

Lubke’s proposal would allow agriculture crops to be grown underneath and around a solar panels, and would allow perennial crops, such as hazelnut trees, to be used as screening.

Lubke noted the cost of screening a solar farm with evergreen trees under the current rules might be between $80,000 and $100,000.

“If you were using that money for perennial costs, you’d be investing that much money into a farmer’s field, to get that farm going more instead of just pine trees,” Lubke said.

Lubke used the portmanteau “agrivoltaics” to describe the concept and showed the council a brief video touting the benefits of the dual-purpose land use.

Lubke’s proposal would also allow solar panels to be installed in shoreland areas that are surrounded by Agriculture-Core zoning. Lubke said he had identified only two bodies of water where that could occur: a wetland area south of Bone Lake, and an unnamed lake southeast of the Manning Trail/Highway 97 intersection, where Lubke owns land.

The council took no formal action on the proposal, but advised Lubke to apply for the ordinance amendments himself. The proposal will first be reviewed by the city’s planning commission.

“I guess I’d like to see more of the implications for it, city-wide, and to make sure that we study that,” Mayor Christine Maefsky said.

The city previously began allowing commercial solar installations in 2015. By mid 2016, however, concerns had grown about the impact on the local viewshed caused by the solar panels and the so-called “pole gardens” that came with them. The city repealed its solar ordinance in 2017, but reintroduced an ordinance with far stricter screening and setback rules in 2019.

 

Sister City meeting

The first joint meeting between the Sister Cities of Scandia and Mellerud, Sweden, will be a cultural get-to-know-you. 

The Scandia group plans to share information about Scandia’s key cultural events and features, such as Taco Daze and Vinterfest. Mellerud officials have said they have a choir they’d like to feature, and have also asked about exchanges between local farmers, councilwoman Patti Ray said.

The Sister City meeting will take place virtually on Aug. 24 at 9 a.m. The meeting will also be live-streamed at the Scandia Community Center for those who wish to attend in person.

 

Other business:

• The council granted two variances: for additions to two non-conforming structures on the St. Croix River at 21795 St. Croix Tr. N., owned by Carol Sundberg; and a deck replacement and expansion on a Bone Lake home owned by Tom Furey and Mary Kenning.

• The council awarded a $123,342 bid from North Valley, Inc., for a road maintenance project on 191st Street North and Kirk Avenue/220th Street North.

• The council approved a special event permit and temporary liquor license for Meister’s Bar and Grill to sell beer at the Taco Daze Beer Garden on Sept. 11. A raffle permit for Gammelgarden Museum’s Running of The Meatballs was also granted. 

• The council accepted a petition from Bruce and Janet Swenson, and James and Peggy Simpson, to vacate an undeveloped pedestrian easement on the north side of Goose Lake. The council will hold a public hearing on Oct. 19 at 7 p.m.

 

The next Scandia City Council meeting will be held Sept. 1 at 6:30 p.m.

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