Public comes out to give opinions on Byron Solar project

·4 min read

Jan. 26—KASSON — Mindy Ward said she and her husband moved to rural Canisteo Township to enjoy the bucolic setting.

Now, she's worried that the views of the countryside will be erased by the gleaming, glaring solar panels covering the landscape.

"We want to live looking out over the corn and soybeans," Ward said.

Ward was one of several township residents who came to Kasson-Mantorville High School on Tuesday night to hear about the

Byron Solar project, a proposed 200-megawatt solar garden that would be built in Canisteo Township

on about 1,801 acres with another 53 acres for the transmission line from the project to the Byron Substation where the project would connect to the regional power grid.

According to estimates from the Solar Energy Industries Association, those 200 mW is enough to power 30,000 homes.

Still, Ward said, the proposal set forth by EDF Renewables, a San Diego-based company with projects across North America, is full of "lies."

The main lie, Ward said, is the claim that there aren't other options than to build in Canisteo Township because there's nothing particularly unique about the location. Instead, those acres, she said, are prime farmland and should be kept as such, and EDF Renewables should look for less valuable farmland.

"Is our community only a means to the Byron substation?" Ward asked.

However, Scott Wentzell, a project development manager for EDF Renewables, said it is precisely the Byron Substation that makes the proposed site so attractive.

Substations are a somewhat rare commodity, Wentzell said, and building a generating site close to the substation makes sense because the farther away you are, the more inefficiently you transmit the power due to the longer distance for the transmission lines.

Wentzell said the project has a lot of value for the township, for Dodge County and for the roughly half-dozen landowners who signed lease agreements with EDF Renewables.

The company has been working on the project since 2018 when it began talking to landowners. During the construction phase, the project will create about 350 jobs, and there will continue to be new jobs for technicians, landscapers, snowplow drivers and others once the construction — expected to begin in 2023 if the project is approved — and the project becomes operational in 2024.

Those landowners will get about $65 million over the course of the 35-year lifespan of the solar garden, and the county and township will benefit from increased tax revenues.

Dodge County Commissioner Rodney Peterson said while the solar garden will create jobs even after construction, the loss of farmland will mean lost agricultural jobs. Peterson said he doesn't have numbers, but he thinks it might be a net loss.

However, the county will see a windfall in tax dollars, Peterson said.

"We'll gain, big time," Peterson said. "For the county, there's a huge increase in taxes. And for that township, an huge increase in taxes. For the county, that's a great win for us tax-wise."

Much of that comes from the taxes on power generation.

Peterson also said the county will need to make sure the company pays for the wear and tear on the roads. He also said the aesthetics of the above-ground power lines will be a negative.

Another major concern brought up was making sure that when the project is decommissioned in 35 years that the land is truly returned to its previous state to be used as farmland.

Wentzell said the company will put up funds to ensure the decommissioning happens as outlined in the proposal and to the standards the landowners would expect.

While most township residents who spoke out at the meeting did so in opposition to the project, one in particular was in favor of the solar garden.

Marvin Grove, speaking on behalf of his deceased mother, said his mom wanted to sign up for the project to bring value to her farmland.

"I'm in favor of it. My mom was in favor of it, "Grove said. "Just because you want to enhance the value of your land doesn't make you a bad neighbor."

A phone meeting will be held at 6 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 26. To join the meeting by phone and listen or provide verbal comments, call (800) 374-0221 and use conference number 4086069.

Public comments can also be made to the Minnesota Public Utilites Commission through Feb. 15, either online at

mn.gov/commerce/energyfacilitie

s or by mail, fax or email to Suzanne Steinhauer, Minnesota Department of Commerce, 85 Seventh Place East, Suite 280, St. Paul, MN 55101; fax, (651) 539-0109; or email at suzanne.steinhauer@state.mn.us.