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Solar farm neighbors voice concerns on property values

MARSHALL – A group of Lyon County residents came before members of the County Board on Tuesday claiming that construction of a solar farm in Stanley Township is devaluing their property. But without evidence that property values decrease around solar farms in Minnesota, board members said they couldn’t grant residents’ appeal to reduce the value of their land.

Four area residents, with property in Section 28 of Stanley Township, appeared together at the Lyon County Board of Appeal and Equalization on Tuesday. Ron Weidauer, Tom Allex, Chuck Muller and Janelle Geurts all asked that the value of their property be reduced, to reflect its being close to the Marshall Solar Project. The project, which was approved by the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission in April, will cover 515 acres of land, four miles east of Marshall.

“The neighborhood has changed rather drastically,” Allex said. Residents said they had several concerns about the solar project devaluing their properties, ranging from the aesthetics of the solar farm and nearby electric transmission lines, to increased traffic in the area from construction and the unknown health effects of being close to the solar farm.

“I think my house is useless sitting where it’s sitting,” Muller said.

“This was dropped in on us,” Weidauer said of the solar project.

Weidauer said he also wondered if the solar farm would bring liability issues with it, whether from fire risks or from complaints about crop dust on the solar panels.

The group of residents asked that the values of their properties be reduced by 20 percent.

“It’s really hard, because we’re the first ones doing this right now,” Geurts said of the request. Large solar farms are a new thing in Minnesota. But it seemed unlikely the project wouldn’t affect property values, she said.

After listening to the residents’ request, Lyon County commissioners said they felt “stuck between a rock and a hard place” over how to address it.

“I think they did raise some valid points,” said Commissioner Rick Anderson.

But at the same time, commissioners said they needed to make property value decisions based on the facts.

“Right now, there’s not really any proof” that properties near a solar farm decrease in value, said County Board Chairman Charlie Sanow. For that proof to exist, there would need to be recorded sales of properties located near a solar project.

Lyon County Assessor Sherri Kitchenmaster said she has been in contact with the Minnesota Department of Revenue, about sales of properties near a solar project in the state. So far, she said, it appears no such properties have been sold.

“For me, I’d be very uncomfortable voting for a reduction,” Sanow said.

Commissioners voted to deny the request for a property value reduction.

However, Anderson said the property owners’ request brought up some bigger questions. In the future, Minnesota counties may need to develop zoning and setback regulations for solar projects, he said.

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