Disputed and controversial board action leaves supporters of property rights, clean energy and predictable regulatory environment with major questions about propriety of board vote; Carver County taxpayers at risk of legal challenge.
(Chaska, MN) The Carver County Board of Commissioners Tuesday voted unanimously, and without discussion, to reject a project designed to bring clean energy to rural Watertown Township. “I’m disappointed – in fact, I’m stunned at the lack of respect shown by the Board to taxpayers and property owners” said Bruce Lenzen, a fourth-generation farmer on whose property the site would have been located.
Partnering with NextEra Energy Resources, the nation’s largest clean energy owner and operator, Mr. Lenzen came to a voluntary agreement to lease approximately 23 acres of his farmland to create a large solar energy system, the product of which would be sold to Xcel Energy customers on a voluntary basis. These types of projects are known as “community solar gardens,” and are authorized by Minnesota law and expressly permitted by Carver County ordinance. In addition to the reduction in energy costs for subscribers, the project is estimated to generate hundreds of thousands of dollars in new tax revenue for Carver County, according to the applicants.
Gregg Mast, Executive Director of the nonprofit organization Clean Energy Economy Minnesota, said “Companies are working across our state to deliver projects like this that provide immediate and longterm benefits to our economy and communities. They rely upon a fair and predictable regulatory environment in order to invest in and successfully deploy these projects. When government bodies diverge from applying their own laws and begin to make decisions solely on the basis of politics that jeopardizes years of planning as well as jobs. It also sends the wrong signal to our business community” he continued.
Commenting on the decision, TruNorth Solar owner and President Marty Morud remarked “The board offered no questions regarding the project that weren’t addressed. Frankly, I was left scratching my head – I could perhaps understand their decision if they had offered some rationale for their negative action, but to simply deny the application without discussion seems unusual at best, and extremely unfair. Unfortunately, it’s Carver County Taxpayers who stand to lose – not only due to the poor business environment this creates, but also if the board is successfully challenged in court.”
Morud continued: “This is a near perfect location for this project, and for solar in general, and in full compliance with the County’s ordinance. When politics threatens the survivability of a legal project, it is an unbelievable attack on Minnesota’s business climate, not to mention the rule of law. The time to make political decisions is when an ordinance is being discussed, not when a legal project has been proposed.
Attorney Mike Franklin, a consultant to the project, added “Courts are clear on this subject – when applicants meet the criteria set out in the ordinance for the permit, a reviewing court will closely examine the county’s denial to ensure the decision was based on facts and not on the basis of local politics. As it turned out earlier this week, the Carver County Board offered no facts on which it intends to deny the application. This suggests, in my opinion, the Board was voting on some other basis than the facts of the application. “