County looks into solar projects

How does Pine County prepare for potential utility-scale solar and wind projects? The Pine County Board of Commissioners heard a presentation on just that from the Great Plains Institute at the county board meeting July 16 in Sandstone.

The county is already making headway on preparation, a goal in its strategic plan. Jessi Wyatt and Jenna Green of the Institute said the county has nearly achieved all the steps for the bronze designation in the program SolSmart, which seeks to identify communities that are “solar ready.”

The county used the Institute’s services in drafting its county wide zoning policy. That policy, among other things, can assist small cities and townships which do not have adequate zoning guidelines for large green energy projects being located in their jurisdictions.

Next, the county can get assistance to conduct feasibility studies for solar installations and storage at government facilities for the silver designation.

Though there are no green energy projects in the works for the county, maps the Institute developed show there are adequate spaces for such projects and aims to help government entities in both short- and long-term planning.

Program extension granted

The county board extended for one year the Clean Water Partnership Loan Program with the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency in which $300,000 will be made available in low-interest loans for residents to replace noncompliant septic systems. The original agreement of three years ago furnished up to $600,000 in loans.

Land and Resource Manager Caleb Anderson said since the county entered the program, 44 noncompliant systems have been replaced so far, and more are approved. They need more time for those systems to be completed, however.

The program has been restructured, Anderson said, so in the future, it is hoped a new agreement can be made under more favorable terms so that the interest rate for homeowners can be lowered a bit. The county pays the state 2% and homeowners are charged 3% to cover the administrative costs of the program.

Anderson said when they set up the agreement, homesteaded properties were prioritized to stretch those loan dollars, and while there are some eligibility criteria, it is not a program strictly for those with low incomes.

Supervisor Steve Hallan of Pine City said it was a great program. “Nobody has an extra 16 grand laying around,” he said, to pay for these kinds of improvements.

Anderson said, “As the person behind the desk who tells the homeowner you have to put in this system, it softens the blow and makes life a lot more pleasant for both parties to say here’s a program to help.”

Budget reviewed

County Administrator David Minke presented a second quarter report on the county’s finances. He said halfway through the year, the county is “looking pretty good.”

He noted that jail revenues won’t make budget this year, and Health and Human Services has expended 67% of its budgeted out-of-home placement costs. Health and Human Services Director Becky Foss said that in general, the more restrictive settings are more expensive.

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