Me, my solar panel and the zoning crimes
I recently approached the Becker County Board of Adjusters to put up a solar panel next to Round Lake in my front yard. I needed a variance, as the solar panel would be on the lakeshore. I understand this is a challenge, and I think my credentials as an "environmentalist" are pretty strong. I also know that in order to put the solar panel up, and get the Minnesota credits available to me, I need to place this solar panel in the best place possible. The only place on my heavily wooded lot is at the lake side, right next to my wild rice bed.
I seemed to have a pretty simple request in that... it was before the action ...i.e., the putting up of the panel. I sat at the hearing, and listened to various variance requests and, perhaps, what we should call "zoning crimes." One fellow had already begun building his lakeside addition without a permit, and well within the lakeshore zone. Another fellow wanted to put a pretty permanent house on a trailer location that he already had a variance for. So, in short, I felt like my request was pretty reasonable.
An eight-by-four-foot panel mounted about six feet up will provide some of the power for my house. The house itself is "green," or about as "green" as I can make it -- largely recycled materials, energy efficient, and I want to power it with solar. I think it's a good model for Becker County. Two of my neighbors wrote in supporting the variance, one wrote in opposing the variance, but not really the solar panel, just the location.
Now comes the problem. Sometimes regulations are objective and sometimes subjective. The Becker County Board of Adjusters' acting chair. Jim Bruflodt, was pretty clear from the beginning that he did not like the project. "I just don't like it," is pretty much what he said.
"It may be that solar panels and our tall sweeping trees and lakeshore do not belong together." Those were the words, basically of the chair. That kind of thinking puts Becker County in a position to react to the future, not to carefully plan.
Here are my thoughts; Coal-fired power plants may not be seen on the lakes of northern Minnesota, but they are felt and known. The lakes in this portion of the county all have fish consumption advisories on them for mercury -- all from coal-fired power plants. Global climate change is upon us, and has raised the temperature one degree already. We can project that the impact will be devastating -- a loss of diversity in lakes as the temperature rises, the increase in water borne diseases, more violent wind storms. All of those are pretty unsightly. "An eyesore," as the chair would say.
I want to thank the county representatives who voted to support my petition. And I would like to ask a more broad set of questions as to the future of Becker County, our lakes and our ability to be proactive. How are the county commissioners accounting for climate change? What steps are in place to support wind and solar energy in the county? And, how can we make decisions for the seventh generation from now?
Should my variance be decided because of an opinion of someone who does not like the project, while my neighbors had fewer objections? Subjective or objective. I really have no other recourse on the lake, except to clearcut my lot to put up the panel inside the required distance from the lake. That would be pretty unsightly as well, but legal. It seems that the lake owners were not opposed to the panel, yet, the chairman, "did not like the project," and voiced his personal opinion from the beginning. He swayed the votes. Al Chirpich made the motion to deny the request as proposed, Jerry Schutz seconded the motion. Al Chirpich, Jerry Schutz and Merle Early voted for the denial with Steve Spaeth and Bill Sherlin voting against the motion for denial.
In the end, it might be worth asking, who has jurisdiction over a tribal member on the reservation, and land owned by a tribal member. I'm hoping someone with a bit more foresight might have jurisdiction and intervene. The Anishinaabeg are committed to the environment, and this is one way to protect the future generations.