Here is an update from the Capitol.
Aurora Solar Project in Wright County
Photo in Buffalo Township of the trees cut down for the Aurora Solar Project.
Buffalo Township Officer Don Schmidt and representatives from Enel visiting the Aurora Solar site in Wright County.
There have been a number of concerns by local residents and government officials regarding the Aurora Solar Project in Wright County. The 100 megawatt, $250 million project, spread across 16 sites around the state, was approved by the Public Utilities Commission without any local approval. In Buffalo Township, 75 acres have been purchased and approved by the PUC for the project and is projected to produce a maximum capacity of 8.5 megawatts. It should be noted that according to the solar developer, the utility scale solar field is expected to produce the max capacity just 21 percent of the time. Many local authorities have been frustrated by the lack of input they have had in the project, from the clear cutting of 11 acres of trees to what roads the trucks hauling heavy equipment will use to get to the construction site. Despite promises made by the solar developers that the land can return to agricultural use after 20 years with solar panels, farmers I talked to are very doubtful.
A recent Wright County township officers meeting provided an outlet for locally elected officials to share their concerns. I attended the meeting and after hearing their ongoing frustrations, reached out to Enel, an Italian company now running the project, in an attempt to facilitate contact between the two groups. The next day, I organized an emergency meeting between Enel and a dozen township officers to help get questions answered.
While many in the community are still not happy with the new solar panels being installed in Wright County, I am hopeful that we can improve communication from both sides on the Aurora Solar Project and ensure all voices are heard and have input in the process.
The Fireworks Freedom Act
Independence Day is about celebrating our shared freedoms, and Minnesotans should have the freedom to responsibly use fireworks. That's why on Monday, the House passed the bipartisan Fireworks Freedom Act to legalize firecrackers, bottle rockets and other aerial fireworks in our state.
The current prohibition on firework sales in Minnesota isn't working, and every summer we hear people celebrating the Fourth of July with illegal fireworks right here in Wright County. Plus, it's estimated that our state loses around $5 million in sales tax revenue every year when people drive to Wisconsin, North Dakota and South Dakota to purchase these fireworks.
Governor Dayton vetoed a previous fireworks bill, but this time around several changes have been made to address concerns surrounding the bill. For example, these aerial and audible device fireworks could only be sold from June 1 to July 10 each year. Additionally, if local governments see a big push back from their community against fireworks, they're allowed to prohibit them within their borders. They can also charge an annual license fee to stores selling fireworks.
The short of it is that Minnesota's ban on fireworks has been ineffective. The Fireworks Freedom Act would let people exercise their freedoms, and the state would also benefit financially from the legal sale of fireworks.
The Fireworks Freedom Act has been sent to the Minnesota Senate for further consideration.
Fantasy Sports Act
Also on Monday, the House passed the Fantasy Sports Act to affirm the legality of fantasy sports in Minnesota, a game that over one million Minnesotans participate in on a regular basis.
The Fantasy Sports Act makes it clear in state statute that participation is legal, ensuring participants would not be criminally liable. It also helps close the door on a potential lawsuit from an activist attorney general who could move to bar fantasy sports in Minnesota, like we have seen in some other states like New York. Additionally, this bill adds consumer protections in fantasy sports to give peace of mind to those who participate.
With this simple law change, Minnesotans will be able to continue to participate and enjoy fantasy sports legally in our state.
For anyone who has not yet taken my 2016 Legislative Survey, it's available to take online. I appreciate the opportunity to gather feedback from constituents about important issues being debated at the Capitol. Your opinions are valuable and guide me toward supporting legislation that best serves our community.
To take my survey, just go to this link: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/ONeill2016
Thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts! Also, don't forget to share my survey with your friends and family in District 29B! I will share the results with you soon.
If you need assistance an issue pertaining to state government, my office is available to you. You can e-mail at Rep.Marion.ONeill@House.MN or call my office at 651-296-5063. You can also write a letter to me. My office address at the Capitol is 549 State Office Building, 100 Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd, St. Paul, MN 55155.