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Developers Plan For Solar Farm in Sioux Falls
The Sioux Falls Planning Commission Will Discuss Amendments to Plan for Solar Energy Next Wednesday

On September 7, 2022, the Planning Commission will meet at the Carnegie Town Hall to discuss a number of planning related issues of the City of Sioux Falls. One of the agenda items popping-up, is an Amendment to the Shape Place Zoning Ordinance (2013), adopting language to initiate, establish, regulate, and to plan for Solar Farm developments in the future.

Solar farms are usually built on retired farmlands or warehouse roofs, essentially anywhere that plentiful amounts of unused open space can house them. Solar farms are also known as "solar parks" or "solar power stations," as they create massive amounts of energy, just like any other power plant.

Utility-scale solar farms can produce up to 2,000 MW (Mega-Watts) per year, with community solar farms generally producing at, or under, 5 MW per year. To produce 1 MW, six to eight acres of land is required. Subscribers to Common Energy are accessing solar energy through community solar farms, a co-op that allows customers to use solar energy, without installing solar panels on their own roofs.

As part of the new Shape Places 2040 Comprehensive Plan, the City of Sioux Falls is hoping to incentivize, and give developers the ability to develop these new-age energy concepts. Their stated goal is to use energy from the sun in order to "sustain, and provide renewable energy to the residents of the city," while helping to shape the city's future growth.

According to the United Nations 2015 news article, "Financing Sustainable Energy for All," written by World Bank's Anita Marangoly George.

"For the global community, universal sustainable energy must be a top priority. We owe it to the 1.1 billion people still living without electricity and the 2.9 billion people still using polluting biomass fuels for cooking and heating. Energy is fundamental to ending poverty as it underpins economic growth and progress in all areas of development—from food security to clean water, education, jobs and health care."

As part of the City's Shape 2040 Comprehensive Plan, city staff are currently developing the following initiatives, and goals:



Through environmental stewardship practices, the City of Sioux Falls has plans that take a more proactive approach to environmental stewardship, including the Greenway Plan, the Parks and Recreation System Plan, and the Sioux Falls Master Plan for Storm-water Best Management Practices (this approach is to address both water quality and flood control). In the future, the City might also look at other master plans to further the environmental stewardship objective, including a Sustainability Master Plan.

Sustainability Programs utilize local governing policies in an attempt to convince residents to conserve resources, and alter consumer behavior through the use of taxpayer funded subsidies and incentives. These environmental policies for sustainability and biodiversity have been a mainstay-policy, first developed by the United Nations in the early 90's. Through newer global initiatives and goals such as Agenda 2021, and now the new goalposts set forth in Agenda 2030.

The United Nations has set about altering public policies at the local-level, in order to create a “world (by 2030) free of poverty, hunger, disease and want … free of fear and violence … with equitable and universal access to quality education, health care and social protection … to safe drinking water and sanitation … where food is sufficient, safe, affordable and nutritious … where habits are safe, resilient and sustainable … and where there is universal access to affordable, reliable and sustainable energy.” According to the U.N Agenda 2030's Human Securities, "this results in development that is more inclusive and sustainable."

Developers and Planners in Sioux Falls are now drafting amendments to the current city zoning, with the intent to create new regulations regarding the development of solar farms. Regulations for solar farm facilities would be subjected to reasonable conditions which will protect the health, safety, and welfare of the public, while also maintaining the aesthetic integrity of the community. These regulations would govern the placement, construction, and modification of solar farms, while helping to encourage the the use of alternative energy sources.

Solar Energy is considered any type of energy generated by the sun. Solar energy is created by a process known as "nuclear fusion," which takes place inside the sun. Fusion occurs when protons of hydrogen atoms violently collide in the sun's core, and then fuse to create a helium atom. According to the United Nations, "solar energy is the most abundant of all energy resources and can even be harnessed in cloudy weather. The rate at which solar energy is intercepted by the Earth is about
10,000 times greater-than, the rate at which humankind consumes energy."

Solar technologies convert sunlight into electrical energy, either through photovoltaic panels or through mirrors that concentrate solar radiation, and can reportedly deliver; heat, cooling, natural lighting, electricity, and fuels for a veritable host of applications.

While the authors of the Shape Sioux Falls 2040 Comprehensive Plan have stated, "The environment should not only be considered as a constraint, and as something to mitigate, but also as an opportunity to enhance and to improve the quality of life of the citizens, of which, the focus of the plan titled Shape Community, addresses objectives within that goal of improving the sustainability of the community itself." However, per the Sciencing news article,
"Effects of Solar Power Farms on the Environment," in order to provide comparable amounts of electrical energy used today, solar farms would require large tracts of land.

Western states like California, have deserts with abundant space and sunshine, but these areas are also natural habitats that support wildlife. For example,
environmental reports underestimated the number of desert tortoises that would be displaced by the Ivanpah Solar Generating System in California’s Mojave Desert. The same solar farm also came under scrutiny when an increasing number of bird deaths were reported on its premises. Many of the bird's wings had been melted or burned off by heat from the solar farm’s mirrors.

Solar farms can also have devastating impacts upon entire ecosystems. The destruction of an individual species can send ripples throughout these ecosystems. Animals like burrowing owls in California’s Mojave Desert, rely on burrows dug by desert tortoises for shelter. As solar farms displace species within a habitat, they also remove the valuable ecosystem services that certain species provide to that habitat. Resulting in entire habitats becoming less livable for plants and wildlife who have adapted to specific conditions.

While the transition seems like a logical and profitable venture, especially as payments made by contractors are much greater than revenue which is received from farmland rentals. City planners must also consider that the transfer of land from agricultural use may result in additional tax liability, greater insurance requirements, personal injury/liability issues, potential future environmental mitigation, and even the inability to transfer lands into other uses such as the Farmland Preservation Programs.

In Craven County, North Carolina - "agricultural farm sales since 2007 (field crop and livestock production only) ranged from $40-$70 million annually, depending upon price of commodities and yield." According to an economic study by NCSU in 2008, "jobs and services supporting this industry added over $312 million to the local economy. However, the number of farmlands converted to other uses over the past 15 years have exceeded a twenty square mile area. This directly affects farmers and the local economy. Thus, any additional loss of farmland will adversely affect the agricultural economy." With food prices and the costs of inflation skyrocketing, some residents of Sioux Falls fear the risk of losing such vast tracts of farmland.

Other landowners are supportive of the plan to develop their lands into solar farms. As lands are transitioned from farmland to commercial property, it will also increase the amount of property-tax-dollars that counties can generate from the land use. Considering the total life expectancy of solar farms, which is anywhere from 15 to 20 years in length, the future income and tax revenues could ultimately add values to both the landowners, and the counties.

However, critics of the proposal warn that the issue is more complicated, and say abandonment of these solar farms, after they outlive their lifetimes, will only decrease land values, making reclamation difficult if not impossible. The issue of what to do with these large solar panels, after they have outlived their use, has become a very big sticking point, as the abandonment of solar farms is then subject to provisions of the Clean Water Act.
These panels tend to leak and leach toxic chemicals into the ground, surrounding environment, and are nearly impossible to recycle.

In particular, abandoned solar farms that have any type of wetland hydrology, would then be regulated by the EPA, the Corps of Engineers and the Coastal Area Management Act, leading to more involvement by the federal government. Chinese solar expert Tian Min, general manager of Nanjing Fangrun Materials, a recycling company in Jiangsu province that collects retired solar panels, has called his country’s solar power industry “a ticking time bomb.”

If Adopted by the residents of Sioux Falls, through the City Council, or by a petition drive, 'developers' will be able to apply for, and zone private lands with the intent to finance, provide for, and build out solar farms. Solar farms can provide renewable energy services to the many residents within a growing community, but how much energy, at what costs to the environment itself?

The Shape Sioux Falls 2040 Comprehensive Development Plan is seen, just as previous developmental plans, as citywide policies adopted by the people, to set aside specific plans, goals, and concepts for the upcoming decades. It will set a vision for how the people wish future generations to govern the city, and if adopted:

"The Shape Sioux Falls 2040 Comprehensive Development Plan marks a continuation of the progressive planning tradition in the Sioux Falls area."

The Planning Commission will meet next Wednesday September 7, 2022 at Carnegie Town Hall to discuss the plans further.

--Mike Zitterich

Post Date: 2022-09-02 08:53:30Last Update: 2022-09-02 18:06:28


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