116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
PALO — Though the company has yet to file an application with the Iowa Utilities Board or Linn County, NextEra Energy Resources is preparing its next steps in pursuit of a large-scale solar project in Palo.
Representatives from the company held an informational meeting Thursday night with the West Linn Community Group at the Palo Community Center to respond to questions and concerns residents have about the three-phase project.
NextEra representatives also debuted a map at the meeting, showing where phase one, dubbed Duane Arnold Solar 1, of the project would go and areas where solar panels cannot be installed due to environmental impact concerns.
The proposed array of the project is northwest of the former Duane Arnold Energy Center
“This is our process. We identify what’s not buildable,” said Mike Weich, NextEra’s director of renewable development. “We’re held accountable by the state of Iowa and Linn County. We can’t just place panels wherever we want. There’s high standards for that.”
NextEra, which has operated in Iowa since 1999, has 11 total wind projects in the state. The Palo site would be its first solar project in Iowa, though it has solar projects in 27 states.
The company plans to invest $800 million in the project, including $50 million paid to landowners over the project’s 30-year life span, if gains state and county approval.
As of Thursday night, the company’s land-leasing phase is near completion, Project Director Kimberly Dickey said.
Dickey, a Linn County resident, said NextEra will not use eminent domain to acquire any land and that the plan relies on voluntary easements.
The project could provide up to 126 construction jobs and spur an estimated tens of millions in economic growth in the area, Dickey said.
After the project’s life span, the land will be restored for farming, she said.
“That is part of the decommissioning plan,” Dickey told The Gazette on Wednesday. “The financial security will be there in a decommissioning bond valued at the net cost of decommissioning. That would be reviewed periodically by the developer, and the county would hold the bond. It’s the security to make sure the plan happens and is followed.”
Dickey said NextEra plans to submit its application for the up to 690 MW, three-phase solar project to replace the Duane Arnold Energy Center, which NextEra has owned since 2005, sometime this summer. One MW requires 5 to 6 acres of land.
Dickey said the first permitting step will be before the Iowa Utilities Board.
“That process could take between nine to 12 months,” she said. “Then the county could take five to six months after we submit the application, but we can do both simultaneously.”
During the meeting, Dickey said the company hopes to begin construction next spring, if permits are approved.
Additionally, NextEra is opening a local office in Palo next week as a place for residents to communicate concerns.
The office, at 606 First St., opens at noon Tuesday. Office hours vary Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday, or residents can call (319) 654-6866 to make an appointment.
Last month, Linn County hosted its own informational meeting to inform residents about the county’s utility-scale, solar project permitting process, which includes three public county supervisor meetings.
At last month’s meeting, the majority of those who attended opposed the plan, citing concerns with accountability and the effect on the environment and farmland.
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Linn County Planning and Development Director Charlie Nichols said at a meeting that once an application is received from a developer, a technical review committee would be meet the first Thursday of the month following the application.
After that review, the application goes through planning and zoning and then to the Board of Supervisors, which holds public comment sessions. The measure would have to gain an affirmative vote three times from the supervisors.
A large-scale utility such as a solar farm also needs approval from the Iowa Utilities Board, which will consider the project at a public meeting.
Nichols said there are specific requirements for any utility-scale solar project, including a screening, setback and grading plan, glare minimization from solar panels, flood plain considerations and fencing and security.
By federal law, utility projects must be fenced.
“Any developer also has to submit an operations and maintenance plan,” Nichols said. “It also requires a decommissioning and site restoration plan. The plan has to spell out exactly how the site will be restored.”