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    4. 1.    
Economic Development Authority (EDA)
Meeting Date: 09/14/2017  
Submitted For: Tim Gladhill, Community Development
By: Eric Maass, Community Development

Review Status of Request to Install and Maintain a Ground-Mounted Solar Energy System on the Property Legally Described as Lot 3, Block 1 River Crossing Addition (Project No. 17-135); Case of Connexus Energy
  1. Appeal for issuance of a Development Permit on an officially mapped parcel.
  2. Zoning Amendment to include Solar Energy Systems as a principal use with the issuance of a Conditional Use Permit in the Public/Quasi-Public District.
  3. Zoning Amendment to rezone a property from R-2 Residential to Public/Quasi Public.
  4. Conditional Use Permit to install and maintain a Solar Energy System.
The purpose of this case is to receive an update from Connexus on a site selection process they have completed related to a new 19 acre solar farm proposed to be constructed in Ramsey. This case is being reviewed with the EDA in response from public comments received at the Public Hearing held by the Planning Commission on September 7, 2017.  One of the comments received was that the Connexus Energy Campus is a better suited site from a land use planning perspective than the currently proposed parcel. Many of the Planning Commissioners shared this feeling, but wanted to better understand the economic development implications of this alternative. To arrive at that discussion, Staff has recommended that Connexus Energy provide an overview of how Connexus arrived at the current proposal through their site evaluation process.

Connexus Energy has applied for a Zoning Amendment and a Conditional Use Permit to construct a new solar garden on the property legally described as Lot 3, Block 1 River Crossing Addition (the "Subject Property"). The system would have the capability of producing 3.5 megawatts (MW) with ground mounted solar photovoltaic panels and would include 6 MW of battery energy storage.  This is one of three (3) sites within Anoka County that Connexus Energy is developing to produce solar energy. 

The Subject Property is owned by Anoka County and would be leased by Connexus Energy. When the City contemplated solar energy systems several years ago, the Zoning Code was amended to consider ground or building mounted solar energy systems as a permitted accessory use in any zoning district. However, it did not account for, or address, the possibility of a solar energy system being the principal use of a property, as would be the case with Connexus' proposal.

Both the current zoning standards for solar energy systems and the information submitted by Connexus are attached for reference.  The final design plans are in the process of being prepared by the solar developer (based on site work being conducted now) but are not complete at this time.  They have stated that they do not anticipate any major changes from the initial proposed layout and the Site Plan would still be subject to review and approval by the City.
Notification is not required for EDA review, but was provided as part of the Public Hearing held with the Planning Commission.
As noted, the Subject Property is owned by Anoka County and was initially acquired to accommodate a future bridge crossing.  In 2007, the Subject Property was designated with an Official Map to prevent future development from occurring in advance of the bridge crossing.  However, the current Highway 10 Access Planning Study no longer identifies this parcel as needed for a potential bridge crossing (with the new Armstrong Blvd overpass alignment).  The Planning Commission will need to take action on an appeal to issue any type of development permit on the Subject Property per City Code Section 117-4 (Official Map).

As part of the Official Map process in 2007, it was noted that the Subject Property was zoned R-2 Residential and that the intention was to re-guide the parcel as Public/Quasi-Public with the 2008 Comprehensive Plan Update and then subsequently rezone the parcel to Public/Quasi Public.  That action did not occur.  However, based on the current owner of the Subject Property (Anoka County) and the proposed use (solar farm), it seems reasonable to rezone the property as Public/Quasi-Public (this would also complete the stated intent when the area was officially mapped) and to amend the uses of that zoning district to identify Solar Energy Systems as a principal use with the issuance of a Conditional Use Permit (this district already identifies municipal and private substations as a permitted use).

The Environmental Policy Board (EPB) was introduced to this concept at their July meeting and then officially reviewed this request at their August meeting.  Questions that the EPB had asked are outlined below along with the responses from the solar developer and/or Connexus Energy.
  • Nuisance noise: The solar energy system will not have any moving parts (fans, panel movement/rotation, etc.) and therefore there should be no discernible noise generated, with the exception of the initial installation of the solar farm.  The battery storage units would include air conditioning.  As with any air conditioning system, the air condensing units would be outside and would generate some noise, but should be within allowable standards.
  • Glare: The panels will be at a fixed tilt, permanently facing south (away from Highway 10), and manufactured with anti-reflective glass specifically designed to reduce glare.  A glare study was provided by the solar developer.  While it does indicate some glare would be produced at a particular receptor (near the southern touch-down point of the Armstrong Blvd overpass), it is minimal and has low potential to create any after-image.
  • Environmental Benefits/Impacts: According to the U.S. Department of Energy, few power generating technologies have as little environmental impact as photovoltaic solar panels.  A ground mounted solar array generates electricity without any moving parts, requires no water, and produces no direct emissions.  Underneath the ground mounted equipment, native vegetation will be established, providing pollinator habitat as well as erosion control and stormwater runoff benefits.  Connexus noted that all power generated by this solar energy system would remain in Ramsey.
  • Final Site Plan plans are being developed presently.  Their design team is completing field work on the Subject Property necessary to complete the final design and Site Plan.  However, it is not anticipated to have any significant impacts to the conceptual layout provided.
While a complete Site Plan is not yet available, consideration of and a recommendation regarding the requested Appeal for a development permit, the Zoning Amendments (both text and map), and Conditional Use Permit can still be addressed.  The EPB recommended approval of the Zoning Amendments and Conditional Use Permit with the following conditions (which have been incorporated into the draft Conditional Use Permit):
  • Submittal of final Site Plan for review and approval by the City.
  • Submittal of a Glare Study (already received).
  • Submittal of a Decommissioning Plan (how the site will be deconstructed and restored upon the abandonment of the operation).
  • Installation of native, sustainable landscape underneath the ground mounted equipment.
The City's Comprehensive Plan does address solar access protection within the Land Use Chapter.  One of the identified policies for solar access protection is to work with the League of Minnesota Cities, University of Minnesota Extension Services, Minnesota Office of Environmental Assistance, Anoka County, and other agencies to develop programs that increase the use of solar energy systems.  It appears that the proposed project would further this policy.

Note that the attached, draft Conditional Use Permit was prepared as if the Zoning Amendments, both the text and map amendments, were in effect already.
Funding Source:
All costs associated with this request are the responsibility of the Applicant.
The Planning Commission postponed a recommendation to seek feedback from the EDA.
No action being requested at this time. This case is an opportunity to provide feedback on the economic development impacts on any of the sites that have been explored for this proposed use.

Site Location Map
Application Submittal
Draft EPB Meeting Minutes Dated August 21, 2017
Glare Study
Manufacturer Equipment Specification Sheet
Existing Solar Engergy System Regulations
Resolution #17-09-211: Official Map Appeal
Ordinance #17-13: Zoning Map Amendment
Ordinance #17-14: Zoning Text Amendment
Resolution #17-09-212: Conditional Use Permit

Form Review
Inbox Reviewed By Date
Tim Gladhill (Originator) Tim Gladhill 09/08/2017 09:46 AM
Chris Anderson Chris Anderson 09/08/2017 10:27 AM
Patrick Brama Kathy Schmitz 09/11/2017 09:23 AM
Kurt Ulrich Kathy Schmitz 09/11/2017 09:24 AM
Form Started By: Tim Gladhill Started On: 09/07/2017 09:57 PM
Final Approval Date: 09/11/2017

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