116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
A utility-grade solar installation west of Coggon will proceed to the second of three consideration after the Linn County Board of Supervisors disregarded an advisory panel’s recommendation that they deny it.
The board approved a zoning change to allow for the solar project with conditions proposed by Supervisor Louie Zumbach. The motion was approved 2-1, with Supervisor Stacey Walker voting no due to the added conditions. The conditions include having 1,200-foot setbacks from non-participating landowners’ buildings and raising solar panel height from 18 to 28 inches as was recommended by soil and water conservation.
“We are adding conditions here without seeing how this could fundamentally alter the project,” Walker said. “I’m not sure how prudent it is for us to start laying out conditions without being able to talk to our experts and the applicant on how the project changes.”
Supervisor Ben Rogers said that because Monday night’s vote was the first of three, more changes still could be made including addressing the newly added conditions.
The project, being proposed by Coggon Solar LLC, a partnership between Idaho-based Clenera and the Central Iowa Power Cooperative, is a 700-plus acre solar project 3 miles west of Coggon. The 100 megawatt project’s life span is up to 35 years, its proposers say, and will produce enough energy to power 18,000 Iowa homes. The project is estimated to offset approximately 300 million pounds of carbon dioxide during its life span.
The supervisors made the first of three votes on the zoning change request that would rezone about 750 acres from agricultural to agricultural with a renewable energy overlay. If ultimately approved, the overlay would expire after 35 years.
Zumbach, who lives near Coggon, said while he believes landowners have rights to agree to use their property for this project, he thinks Iowa’s soil should be used for food production.
“I firmly believe that if gerbils on a wheel were the tax credit of choice, we would leave solar behind and talk about gerbils on a wheel,” said Zumbach, who served two terms in the Iowa House before becoming a supervisors. “I’ve gotten more emails on this than I ever have for any issue when I was in the Iowa House.”
Nonetheless, Zumbach voted to advance the project.
In November, the Linn County Planning and Zoning committee recommended in a 6-1 vote the supervisors deny the application.
Linn County Planning and Development Director Charlie Nichols opened the meeting Monday, as he did at the planning and zoning meeting, with a presentation saying that county staff believes the project meets the standard of not being detrimental to current agricultural uses.
The project would take 640 acres of agricultural land out of use for up to 35 years if built, Nichols said. However, the renewable energy overlay automatically would expire at the end of the project or after 35 years, whichever comes first, Nichols said.
Concerns raised over the last few months at various meetings by residents, including Monday night’s meeting, were of taking agricultural land out of use for multiple decades as well as concerns over the project’s effects on the environment, its aesthetic value and trusting the decommissioning plan.
Monday night’s meeting saw almost equal support and opposition to the project, with the majority of public speakers not from the Coggon area but instead from Palo and Cedar Rapids. Palo is the site of another potential utility-scale solar project by NextEra.
“I'm not against solar. This just doesn't seem like the right place for it,” said speaker William Rogan, who lives near the proposed project. “Why are we here talking about this now in this location? It's because of the money. It's the cheapest place to put it for an out of state company that will profit.”
“My first reaction to a large solar project in Linn County is ‘finally,’” said speaker Martin Smith of Cedar Rapids.
Coggon Solar filed its application for the project back in July for the property located south of Linn-Delaware Road, north of Hutchinson Road, west of Quality Road and east of Sutton Road.
The application includes an agricultural impact mitigation plan, vegetation management plan and a decommissioning plan that includes how the solar panels would be salvaged. According to the application, the panels will be recycled or sold on the secondary market after the project is decommissioned.
In addition, Nichols said the county had requested a minimum setback of 300 feet — raised Monday night by Zumbach’s condition — from all other properties with residences.
The application also has conditions that include a $1 million performance bond from Clenera toward the decommissioning plan and that say the developers are responsible for any storm-related damage clean up if that were to ever occur.
Clenera Director of Development Tom Fitzgerald said Coggon Solar will be a $150 million capital investment that will require around 300 construction jobs at its peak. On Monday, Coggon Solar signed a letter of intent with the Cedar Rapids and Iowa City Trades Council for the project to be built with local labor.
“A hundred percent of clean energy will be used locally and regionally in Iowa,” Fitzgerald told the supervisors.
Fitzgerald also said the Coggon location is the only substation location the company could consider building the project without raising rates for current CIPCO customers.
“The first projects that are constructed in areas are the most challenged as counties and communities get a sense of what they look like and how they operate,” he said. “It’s generally become more accepted in areas where solar is already more prevalent. But these conversations and dialogue are paramount to help people understand.”
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