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Solar talks heating up again

The questions of whether alternative energy should be pursued and what kind of alternative energy that would be have been a common topic throughout local, state and national government meetings. Goodhue County is no different.

On Tuesday, Sept. 4, the Goodhue County Board of Commissioners debated if, and how, the county should proceed in investing in solar energy. In the past, Goodhue County put out a request for proposals for solar energy. However, that process was failed. Now, the topic is being brought up again.

There are three paths that the county could take to invest in solar energy. One is working with a developer to find panels and install them on county buildings. A second option is buying solar panels directly and having county staff install them. The third option is to join a solar garden.

According to Xcel Energy, solar gardens —sometimes called "solar communities" — are a way to use solar energy without attaching solar panels to a building. Throughout Minnesota, there are collections of third-party solar gardens. An individual or group joining the community pays a fee to the garden. The garden then records how much solar energy is collected in the organization or individual's name, and reports that amount to Xcel Energy. Xcel will then give the organization a deduction in its utility bills.

When asked to comment on the three solar energy options, County Commissioner Brad Anderson said that he is supportive of the county investing in solar but he does not yet know which of the three would be best for the county.

"We do not have the staff to manage a panel installation nor do I want to assume the risk of upkeep for solar installations. I am ready to have the county invest in a solar developers project but not have the county invest in an installation of our own," Anderson wrote.

In order to move forward with solar energy, the county will have to begin another RFP process. This was discussed during the Sept. 4 meeting, but no decision was made on if an RFP will be created.

Commissioner Drotos told the board, "I'm very convinced that so-called alternative energies are the future."

In a statement, Drotos wrote that solar energy will save the county money and support green energy at the same time.

Other commissioners were not as convinced in the practicality and importance of solar energy.

Commissioner Barney Nesseth questioned whether tax revenue should be used to invest in these panels.

Nesseth wrote in a comment, "I am all in favor of renewables if they are cost effective. When taxpayers no longer have to see tax dollars going to support renewables, and they produce electricity that is competitive with nuclear and natural gas, then I will be in favor of them. It is not fair to charge everyone more for their electricity just because some people want renewables and it makes us feel good."

Nesseth also stated that before buying solar panels or investing in a garden, a discussion should be had about the disposal of the solar panels when they are no longer usable. According to Nesseth, there is no clear process for safely disposing of the parts, nor is the exact cost known.

Commissioner Jason Majerus also questioned how much solar panels would really save the county money. He pointed to the cost of the RFP process compared to any savings that may come from solar energy.

There is not a set date for the continuation of the solar energy conversation.