Family farm going solar; Project moving ahead after county OKs ordinance

Published 10:19 am Wednesday, August 5, 2015

A Waltham area family can move ahead with a solar energy project on a family farm after the Mower County board unanimously approved an Accessory Solar Energy Ordinance Tuesday.

Sorensen Farms is moving ahead with a plan to add up to 80 kilowatts of solar power on two farm sites near Waltham and Udolpho Township.

“We’re excited to get started,” said Chris Sorensen, who attended the meeting with her husband, Dan.

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The Sorensens won a lottery to receive a grant through the Made In Minnesota Solar Incentive Program for a 10 kW solar panel west of Waltham on County State Aid Highway 1, but they could add a second 30 kW unit.

Sorensen Farm is a family farm run by Chris and Dan and Brian and Debra Sorensen — sisters that married two brothers.

The Sorensens could also apply for a Rural Energy for America Program (REAP) grant for an additional 40 kWs of power on a second site in Udulpho Township.

The solar panels will be used to power the farm, including fans for corn driers and hog barns, along with other farm equipment.

“We use just about all that,” Dan told the board.

With the Made In Minnesota funds, the Sorensens were happy that all the materials being used are produced in Minnesota.

“It’s promoting our state,” Chris said.

The farm’s energy use will vary based on the season, with the excess energy going into the energy grid for a credit during the low-use seasons.

The solar units won’t be fully funded by grants, as the families are also putting in their own money. The Sorensens hope to have the units in before frost, but that will depend on how fast the equipment arrives and how fast the contractors can work.

When the Sorensens started the project, they learned Mower County didn’t have a solar ordinance. While many other Minnesota counties allowed for solar projects without an ordinance in place, Mower prohibited solar projects without an ordinance. That meant the Sorensens couldn’t move ahead on their project without an ordinance in place, so they had to wait on the project until the county’s ordinance was finalized.

“We’re a couple of months behind where we anticipated being at this point, but we’re very pleased with how accepting everybody has been and how helpful [Environmental Services Director] Angie [Knish],” Chris said.

Dan and Chris also thanked the board for approving the ordinance and working to get it done in a timely manner so their project can move forward.

The Accessory Solar Energy Ordinance will allow for rooftop and ground-mounted solar units, though there was some question about allowing ground-mounted units in high-density rural areas, though the board eventually approved both types of units.