GRANT, MN - Longtime Grant Resident, Joyce Welander, has been denied by Mayor Jeff Huber, and City Council Members Tom Carr and Dennis Kaup the right to use her own land in a manner that would be beneficial to her, the city and the environment. Welander applied to the City of Grant to turn 8 acres on her 60 acre parcel into a solar farm that would send clean, energy to the local Xcel Energy grid. This particular large parcel is located away from residential housing and sits on the northwest corner of 75th Street and Manning. It is a perfectly situated piece of land for a solar farm because it is located on a three phase power line and it is in the right proximity to Xcel Energy's Plant in Bayport. The solar panels would be situated in the middle of the 10 acres field (8 acres with solar panels and 2 acres would be for pollinated grasses). The pollinated grasses would be surrounding and under the solar panels because of heat they produce for the sun.
Welander is retired and desired additional supplemental income to live. The solar garden would result in more money for the City of Grant, by changing the local property tax rate on the land from agricultural to commercial. Welander a longtime 4H leader and farmer, thought that a solution that would provide her income as well as helping the environment was a good idea. According to David Watts, Project Development Manager at US Solar "By denying the community solar garden, the City of Grant denied the community of a private investment in 10 acres of pollinator-friendly habitat that improves air/soil/water quality, reduces stormwater pollution, increases nearby agricultural production, and enhances local wildlife. The City of Grant has been denied the increased tax revenue, and Joyce Welander has been denied her property rights for a land use that is injurious to no one. The solution is simple - permit this project and reap the benefits." According to Welander, "Residents could benefit by asking Xcel Energy to allow them to use the solar energy to reduce their energy bill."
Welander has been before the city planning commission twice and city council twice. The city planning commission voted 5 to 1 to recommend for approval, the only rogue dissenter was Grant City Council Candidate, John Rog. Even though Rog's campaign slogan is "Keeping Grant Country," Rog stated he would rather see more residential housing development in Grant in lieu of solar farms. See video below "Rog Goes Rogue on Solar Farms." Rog expressed he does not want private business owners to make money off of their private business if it doesn't benefit the City of Grant. Questioning Welander "Are you going to make income off of this?" Rog didn't seem to understand that the City of Grant was going to reap the financial benefits of higher tax rates from Welander's land by changing from agricultural to commercial tax.
Rog Goes Rogue on Solar Gardens
Mayor Jeff Huber Refers to Applicant as "Poor Joyce"
Before the last city council meeting when the proposed solar farm was on the city council meeting agenda, the city administrator already had a pre-planned, drafted resolution that would not allow commercial solar farms in Grant. At one point during the discussion, Mayor Jeff Huber referred to applicant, Welander, as "Poor Joyce." Council Member Tom Carr, stated the city could possibly allow this type of solar farm in Grant in the commercial business district, but there is no land or application in that city zone that would fit a commercial solar farm (so essentially outlawing solar farms altogether). Council Member Dennis Kaup just wanted to reject, didn't want any more discussion, at one time yelling at Lanoux to "shut up," for defending Welander's right to farm.
There was no solid reasoning given to Welander why her solar farm should not be allowed, other than it doesn't fit the city's comprehensive plan. But according to City Council Member Larry Lanoux, "there is no where listed in the comprehensive plan that does not allow this type of solar farm. Our city comprehensive plan allows the right to farm. City Council Majority (Huber, Carr and Kaup) failed to show any findings of fact for denial of this solar farm." City Council Members Lanox and Loren Sederstrom were the only city council members to be in support and felt the city council majority was "arbitrary and capricious" in not allowing the application to move forward.
City of Grant Huber, Carr and Kaup Ignore Benefits to Environment
The environmental impact of having a solar farm in Grant was ignored. According to Rob Davis, Director of the Center for Pollinators in Energy at Fresh Energy "Unlike typical solar facilities, which might use crushed limestone or cement under and around the panels, pollinator-friendly solar sites create an ecological preserve of deep-rooted and perennially flowering vegetation that improves the soil and meaningfully benefits monarchs, grassland birds, and Minnesota’s threatened pollinators. A bill establishing the nation’s first standard for pollinator-friendly solar unanimously passed the Minnesota legislature and was signed into law in 2016.” With the amount of agricultural and beekeeping farms in Grant the project would be a great benefit to the environment.
Next Steps for Welander
Welander started gathering petition signatures from City of Grant Residents this summer that would support her proposal. Welander received close to 200 signatures. She has submitted the application again "agriculture is not just corn and beans, it is about beekeeping and the positive effect on the whole environment. Solar Farms would help our local beekeepers and the hemp growers." Welander has re-submitted the application to the city recently and will hope for a different outcome.