A solar project would multiply a North Dakota town’s budget, but a 1995 ordinance prevents it

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The Flickertail solar project is a proposed 350MW facility in Colfax Township in North Dakota, about 30 miles south of Fargo. About 1,000 registered Richland County voters were recently surveyed. Out of more than 575 respondents, almost 60% support solar energy development in Richland County, said project developer Savion. However, a 1995 town ordinance prevents the installation of large-scale solar facilities in Colfax.

The expected local benefits of the solar farm are causing zoning board members in Colfax to reconsider the law. For the first five years of the $300 million solar project’s revenues, the township would receive $1.4 million. Colfax has an annual budget between $80,000 to $90,000, and the Flickertail solar project alone would add more than $100,000 annually to that figure. The school district would receive $90,000 a year, $320,000 annually would go to the county budget, and $290,000 to the state of North Dakota’s budget.

All these financial benefits would stack on to the environmental benefit of adding 350MW of renewable, carbon-free energy to North Dakota’s grid. The Solar Energy Industries Association ranks North Dakota last in the union for solar deployment. As of Q4 2021, only 1.6MW of solar PV has been installed. There are 211 reported solar jobs across eight companies in the state. Flickertail would completely re-frame the North Dakota solar market, pioneering as the first true large-scale installation in the state.

Town board members are set to vote on the 1995 ordinance on Tuesday, April 5th. If the ordinance is overturned, Savion will then send its project to be approved by the state.

“We hope to work with the township to amend the ordinance to allow some common-sense rules,” said Gabriel Klooster, development director. Klooster said the project has been met with interest from local landowners. Sites have been selected for the 2,000 dispersed acres that would house the solar project.

Though the overall feedback has been favorable, the proposal to remove the ordinance has met resistance from Colfax town board chairman Stuart Gunness. Gunness cites resident concerns over the aesthetic effect of large solar fields in a rural area, calling the facilities “unsightly.” “It’s pretty much as black and white as that,” said Gunness.

If approved, the project would connect onsite to the Minnkota Power Cooperative’s Frontier-Wahpeton 230kV transmission line. Savion said it expects the interconnection agreement to be executed in Q3, 2024. Kansas City’s Savion has a project pipeline of 19.6GW of solar and energy storage projects spanning 161 projects in various phases. The company has active projects in 27 US states.

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