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City updates rules for solar energy systems

Solar energy is coming. The Minnesota Legislature has mandated that public utility companies generate more of their energy from solar and that they make solar power a more appealing option for home and business owners.

Specifically, the bill, which was passed in May 2013, requires utility companies including Xcel Energy to generate 1.5 percent of their energy from solar by 2020, and offer incentives for homeowners and businesses to acquire clean energy. Dakota Electric is not included under the mandate.

Knowing that there will be a push for it, the Rosemount City Council took the time to revamp their Alternative Energy Systems zoning ordinance. City planner Jason Lindahl said the city wanted to make sure the standards regulating the use of solar energy systems were up-to-date as interest in the technology picks up.

The ordinance establishes height limits, screen requirements for community solar gardens, setbacks and coverage standards. Overall, Lindahl said, the ordinance ensures solar energy systems meet performance standards expected of all buildings and equipment in the city. The city council approved the ordinance on Tuesday night.

While the ordinance addresses residential systems, Lindahl said the city’s bigger interest is the possibility of a community solar farms or gardens. A provision of the law allows for the development of community shared solar energy systems, also known as solar gardens.

Xcel Energy has proposed a solar garden program to the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission. Under the company’s proposal solar developers will apply to the program and install solar garden projects that will be connected to the electrical network and offered to multiple subscribers. Customers will have the option to subscribe through the developers and receive credit on their monthly Xcel electric bills.

While there has been no formal plan submitted to the city, Lindahl said there has been interest in establishing a solar garden in Rosemount. Lindahl said it’s likely that in the years to come some sort of community solar energy system will be built in the area.

The law also created the Solar Incentive Program for consumers who install PV and solar thermal systems. Lindahl said the program makes residential solar energy systems cheaper and more accessible.

For residents interested in residential solar energy systems, Lindahl recommended working with a licensed contractor. He also suggested that residents look at their whole energy usage and ways they can improve their energy efficiency. Xcel Energy offers home energy audits for those interested in improving their home’s efficiency.

“I suggest that residents do their research and approach it holistically,” said Lindahl.

Presently, there are not a lot of solar energy systems in Rosemount. St. Joseph Church has a solar energy system and there are a few homes with systems. Dakota County Technical College runs some of its athletic facility equipment with solar energy. In Empire Township, the Dakota Communications Center and the Dakota County Transportation Garage are in the process of putting up solar panels.

Lindahl said he anticipates the city will see more and more solar energy systems. With the modified ordinance the city’s more prepared to regulate them.

Emily Zimmer
Emily Zimmer has worked as a staff writer for the Rosemount Town Pages since 2007. She has a degree in journalism from Minnesota State University, Mankato. Outside of work, Emily enjoys running, reading and gardening. You can follow Emily's gardening adventures at the Areavoices blog East of Weedin'
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