County board gives cold shoulder to proposed solar project

A proposed 235-megawatt solar panel installation that would go online in 2027 has generated opposition from residents and elected officials in southwestern Minnesota. Members of the Lyon County Board of Commissioners grilled local representatives of the Virginia-based developer, Apex Energy, at a public presentation in Marshall.

The most prominent concern over the project, dubbed Coneflower Solar, focused on the more than 1,600 acres of cropland that would be removed from production and the ripple effect on the ag economy, according to the Marshall Independent.

Commissioner Gary Crowley said he had heard concerns from Lyon County residents about the solar proposal.

“Basically what the concern is, is taking good farmland out of production,” Crowley said. That in turn hurts the local economy, because farmers aren’t buying seed or fertilizer, he said. “Then (the farmer) goes out and he has to bid out to try and find some more land to farm,” Crowley said.

Apex Energy’s representative pointed out that 20 landowners have already signed onto the project, which would generate an average of $500,000 in annual tax revenue for the county.

[Public engagement director Drew] Christensen also emphasized that landowners who leased out their property did so voluntarily.

“I would just note that these are all voluntary agreements. These are all signed by the landowner, that they have made this decision to enter into this project,” he said.

“I would also note that this project is temporary,” Christensen said. “This is not taking farmland permanently out of production. This isn’t putting up a Walmart, this is land that is going to rest for 20 to 30 years.”

But Lyon County Commissioner Rick Anderson noted the majority of the property owners involved are absentee landlords who would not have to live with the impact of the proposed project. And he underscored the fact that power generated benefits the Twin Cities, rather than local residents.

Anderson said he had “lost a lot of respect” for Apex, because much of the land leased for the solar project was not owned by people who live in the area.

“Ninety percent of the land that you’ve got signed up for solar, don’t live around here or live close to the brunt of it,” Anderson said. “I happen to be one of those guys who’s going to have to look at them, and they’re going to be right out my window.”

“All of this power is going into the seven-county metro (area). It’s not staying in this local area,” Anderson said. The $500,000 in annual energy production tax revenue for the county wasn’t a guaranteed figure either, he said.

The huge solar installation isn’t the only renewable energy project to spark opposition in Lyon County currently. Some landowners, residents and elected officials have also criticized Xcel Energy’s proposed 175-mile high voltage power line likely to run through the county to pave the way for projects like Coneflower and keep the lights on in the Twin Cities.