Sara Bergan and Thomas Braun Discuss Minnesota Legislation That Could Ease the Hurdles to Developing Solar Power Plants on Agricultural Land


Energy law attorney Sara Bergan and environmental and energy law attorney Thomas Braun contributed an article to pv magazine titled “Minnesota is primed to turn a page on the conflict between solar growth and farmland preservation,” published May 14, 2021. The article discusses legislation being considered in Minnesota that, if passed, would relax the prohibition in the state’s Prime Farmland Rule against permitting a large electric power generating plant where its siting would require more than one-half acre of prime farmland per megawatt of capacity.

The Prime Farmland Rule was enacted some 40 years ago in response to growing concerns as to the impact of siting a conventional generation facility and its associated infrastructure and equipment on or in proximity to cropland. More recently, developers of solar facilities, which have a relatively broad but less-impactful landscape footprint, have sought to permit their projects through an exception to the rule that allows development when there is no “feasible and prudent alternative.”

The legislation under consideration by the Minnesota legislature would require the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission to amend the Prime Farmland Rule to allow the siting of a solar project on prime farmland if it meets several conditions to ensure that it preserves the long-term health of the soil, water and ecosystem and viability of the land for agricultural use.

The authors conclude: “If promulgated, such a rule would remove a significant hurdle to the development of utility scale solar projects in Minnesota and allow the state to turn a problem for renewable energy development into an opportunity.”

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