Counties pause solar and wind projects over controversial Xcel line

American Experiment has highlighted the opposition of landowners and local elected officials to Xcel Energy’s proposed 175-mile high voltage line running from near Marshall in southwestern Minnesota to Becker in central Minnesota.

A room full of farmers and other residents at a public meeting in Marshall this week let Xcel Energy know they want nothing to do with the utility’s latest proposed high-voltage transmission line for wind power in their area. Both of the proposed routes for the high-voltage line would originate and cross through Lyon County in southwestern Minnesota.

Now two county boards along the controversial line’s suggested route have taken it a step further. The commissioners of Chippewa County and Meeker County both recently voted to slap a one-year moratorium on wind and solar projects. The West Central Tribune notes the action comes in order to get a handle on potential developments that could crop up in response to Xcel’s line.

The Chippewa County Commissioners adopted the moratorium on a unanimous vote after hearing from one resident during a public hearing.

Kent Bosch, who farms in the county, told the commissioners that he is “nervous about the future” for the ability of farmers to turn their operations over to sons and daughters as solar projects take prime farmland out of production.

Absentee landowners are two and three generations removed from the farm, and increasingly willing to lease their lands for solar projects, he explained.

Similar concerns have been raised throughout the mandatory public meetings held in recent weeks by Xcel Energy and the Minnesota Department of Commerce. Both of the routes under consideration for the high-voltage power lines run through Meeker County.

Chad Kipf, chair of the Harvey Township Board in Meeker County, was among the 14 who attended the hearing on the ordinance. He encouraged the board to “pump the brakes on big wind and solar companies coming through.”

Kipf said Xcel Energy is interested in possibly developing a 5,000-acre solar farm in the township, which could take a significant amount of farmland out of production, he pointed out.

Representatives of renewable energy companies on hand emphasized the local economic impact of county taxes and payments to landowners by wind and solar developers.

Jason Edworthy, of BluEarth Renewables, pointed out that Meeker County receives $130,000 to $140,000 in tax revenues from the wind farms. Wind turbines take a minimal amount of farmland out of production, usually only 1,000 square feet per turbine, according to BluEarth Renewables.

Renewable energy means jobs in the county’s communities, Mark Volk, with Integrated Power Services, of Litchfield, told the commissioners. The company employs 100 to 120 people and maintaining and refurbishing wind generators is an important part of the business operations, he explained.

In the end, both county boards voted to take advantage of the state law giving counties up to one year to put renewable energy on hold and promulgate regulations. The pause may slow down the process, but there’s little doubt the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission will approve Xcel’s controversial high-voltage line regardless of local objections.