As seen in the Crow River News
I am compelled to write after reading on these pages and others, as well as hearing from so many people about the housing crisis in our region.
Usually the conclusion of politicians and affordable housing advocates when considering these problems is to proclaim that “something needs to be done” about it. Inevitably, the prescription includes government spending, local government policy changes and mandates upon builders, homeowners, local governments and tax payers. I want to bring into the discussion other factors I see contributing to the problem, that do not get near enough press coverage.
Namely, governments and advocacy groups may themselves be a problem. For example, the Met Council and Hennepin County have done a lot of work contributing to both the high cost of housing, and fewer actual homes. If they were really interested in solving the housing crisis, we would also see their budget and their actions reflect that.
Hennepin County has increased their spending on light rail dramatically over the last 5 years. Their 2 billion dollar spend on light rail for 28,000 people is not a spend without consequence. That’s lanes and lanes of roads that could reach rural areas and make it plausible to drive in to work. Rural land is less expensive, and the costs of living are significantly less. Building where it is less expensive should be an option on the table to solve our housing crisis. They seems to shift the blame and shift the responsibility to local governments and local landowners and home builders.
The Met Council, through their never-ending light rail quest, also contributes in the same way. Most of us understand that there should be a logical progression in water lines and sewer lines and that used to be Met Council’s primary function. Today’s Met Council is heavy handed and have mission-creeped to include class warfare, global warming and have injected their political views into every meaningful decision about housing in our region. You may agree with some of their stances, but you can’t disagree that they feel compelled to inject all of that into housing. It is no wonder there are fewer homes for working class people. If you were a builder, would you want to build here? For many, that answer is no.
If you want low income housing, make this market more attractive to build in, make it easier to drive from rural less expensive areas, and get back to government doing basic things.
There will be people who disagree, who say that government is the solution to this crisis. I have one question. How’s it working so far?
Jon Bottema (I am on the Corcoran City council)
As seen in the Crow River News:
I read in this paper a week ago that a solar farm company is asking St. Michael to re-allow community solar gardens into their town, and it would add another to our region. I became more interested in the topic when Corcoran was given an application for a community solar garden a couple years ago. As a Corcoran City Councilman, I felt compelled to look into it. I wanted to be thorough, so I began by reading the community solar proposals presented to other cities in Minnesota. I read thousands of pages of documents, and I watched hundreds of their city council minutes. Every solar company had the same pitch. So many red flags kept coming up! I was losing sleep, staying up till early in the morning trying to figure this out. I am not an authority on this topic; however, as a financial analyst, I could see that some things did not add up. As part of the application process, a community considering incorporating a solar garden also gets a decommissioning plan: what happens if the solar farm goes bankrupt or ceases to function. The decommissioning plan submitted to us had Corcoran MAKING money if the company went out of business. I wondered how that could even be possible. Many towns have put themselves in financial danger, finding out too late that this it is NOT. Therefore, I would like to present to you some truths I discovered about this and other myths perpetuated by the Met Council, The League of Minnesota Cities, and especially the solar companies themselves before anyone makes a decision about them
Myth #1 Community solar gardens are recyclable. Community solar gardens are NOT RECYCLABLE according to the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) and the International Energy Agency. Though these organizations are actually advocates for solar energy, within their own documents they speak of "recycling in the future" and the "need for recycling plants.” The US, Germany, and China are the biggest users of solar panels, and none of us have figured out how to recycle them. The solar companies say that "most of the materials in solar panels are recyclable." That is true. The non-recyclable materials make up about one percent of the weight of the panels. However, the non-recyclables are intertwined with the recyclables, and there is no technology to separate the materials. So, by weight, a majority of the panel is made of recyclable materials; however, none of the panel is recyclable because they can’t separate the non-recyclable heavy metals imbedded throughout. It’s like saying a nuclear warhead is recyclable because it is made mostly of steel, copper and aluminum. We all know that that cannot be true. Ironically, a nuclear warhead is actually more recyclable than a solar panel because you CAN actually separate the nuclear components from the non-nuclear components.
Myth #2. Solar panels are landfill friendly. Even the solar companies’ internal publications say they are not. I called every landfill within 100 miles of Corcoran, and all of them said flat out that they would not take them. Hennepin County works with many haulers, and they said they did not know what to do with the panels. I spoke with the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA), which I learned controls everything that can and cannot go into a landfill. Before things can be determined ‘landfill friendly,’ they must pass a ‘leach test;’ the material is ground into a million pieces (similar to how it would be handled in a landfill), wet down, then checked to see if any hazardous material seeps out. The big solar panels have not been leach tested in Minnesota. The panels are, in fact, hazardous waste and would have to be buried in a hazardous waste landfill. There aren’t any in Minnesota, but there is one in Wisconsin and one in North Dakota. They will take them, but it typically costs over a dollar a pound to bury things there. Most community solar gardens contain over a million pounds of that sort of material. In some proposals, solar companies state that their panels have undergone a leach test. This is a little deceiving because what they have undergone is a ‘standing leach test,’ which is significantly different than the leach test described above. The panels are left intact and sprayed with water, and then the water is tested for hazardous materials. The standing leech test actually has no bearing on if the material is landfill friendly. The panels must be subjected to actual landfill conditions, replicated in the leach test, and, again, these panels have not, so the solar companies have no way of knowing if their panels are landfill friendly.
Myth #3. Used Solar panels can be resold. Some solar companies include in their figures a resale value of the solar panels. In the case of decommissioning a solar farm, the solar company leads the city to believe that it can sell the used solar panels and make money on them. Most decommissioning plans include an engineering company's analysis of what the solar panels will be worth in about five years. For a couple of reasons, the panels are not worth much in five years. Technology is constantly advancing, so who would want five-year-old solar panels? That would be like buying a five-year-old iPhone. And- this is a big one- there actually isn’t a market for used solar panels. They are not bought and sold in any public fashion. One engineering firm that has been included in many solar companies' proposals stated that they got the resale value of the used panels from the solar company; another said they hoped a secondary market would develop for the panels. I asked both if they would stand by their numbers if asked. Both said no.
Myth #4. The industry is safe. Solar gardens are very new, and the players change all the time. The industry is heavily subsidized and requires these subsidies to stay afloat. There have already been bankruptcies in the leading solar manufacturers and solar companies; in the case of a bankruptcy, it's important to know that our town is number seven in line for any claims from a bankrupt company. We come after 1. secured claims; 2. administrative expenses; 3. post-petition unsecured claims; 4. Wages; 5. employee benefits; and 6. tax claims. Bottom line: we would not see a penny from them. Most presentations give the town the impression of some sort of protection by saying things like, "We are a wholly owned subsidiary of XYZ company; they have a huge balance sheet and have been around for 100 years." Keep in mind that bankruptcies of a company that is a wholly owned subsidiary do not travel up to the parent company’s balance sheet. Essentially, the statement means nothing and offers no protection toour towns.
I could go on. I own many solar devices, so this is not a blanket indictment on the industry or harvesting the sun’s energy. It's hard not to get excited about the idea of saving the planet. When I read these solar companies’ proposals, though, it sounded too good to be true. The fact is, it is. The fact is that solar companies are deceiving small towns into picking up a liability that they may not be prepared to handle. The fact is that solar farming can cost the city a lot of money. The fact is that it's hard to find the time to dig deep into some of these issues, but let this be a startingpoint. Do your own research, and encourage others to do the same. Make an informed decision.
Corcoran City Council
Size and scope of government: We should strive for effectiveness and efficiency for Corcoran. Corcoran should be It will be efficient and continue to deliver the same effectiveness that we come to expect.
Roads: For many there is a desire to have more paved roads, Others believe we should keep our roads dirt Roads can set the pace, and landscape for the entire community. We've had many discussions and the debate still goes on. Whatever the outcome, Corcoran will decide it. For example, if we pave the roads, we need to be able to have some safeguards against an extreme increase in speeds and commuter traffic. All we have to do is look at some towns around us to see some glaring mistakes and some good models to use while designing roads. It is important that WE decide.
There is no doubt that there will be growth in Corcoran. The city needs to continue to be responsive, and give us the high quality services that they do today. It must be measured, and it must be on our terms. Corcoran didn’t participate as much in the housing boom of the 2000’s that almost every community around us did. We also did not participate in the bust that followed. There are still many many empty developments around us in nearly every city. Those towns have served as the petrie dish for good and bad ideas. A big lesson is that the best development plan needs to be well thought out and realistic. Both for smart growth, but we MUST keep the character of this town in tact.
Business: It is important to maintain a diversified tax base, this includes a healthy business climate. A friendly town for business is important.