116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Despite assurances from county planning and development staff, the Linn County Planning and Zoning Commission has recommended denying a proposed solar farm near Coggon. A final decision will come from the Board of Supervisors.
The seven-member commission voted 6-1 to recommend denial to rezone the land from agricultural use to agricultural use with a renewable energy overlay, which would allow for the solar farm.
Commission members cited taking agricultural land out of use as one of the reasons to recommend denial, though some members said it seemed the project met all the county’s standards.
Though the commission is appointed by the county supervisors, the county’s supervisors ultimately will have the final say after a series of three considerations at three separate meetings in which they will consider staff and planning and zoning committee members’ feedback.
The county’s review process of the 750-acre solar energy project — about three miles west of Coggon — began earlier this month with a technical review committee meeting.
The proposed facility is a partnership between Idaho-based Clenera and Central Iowa Power Cooperative named Coggon Solar L.L.C.
Linn County Planning and Development Director Charlie Nichols opened the 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.
Nichols added that a third-party review by Stantec determined the proposed project would not degrade significant environmental, ecological or natural resources as well.
The project is estimated to offset approximately 300 million pounds of carbon dioxide during its lifespan, Nichols said.
Coggon Solar filed its application for the project back in July, calling for a facility that can generate 100 megawatts, if approved and built, for 35 years.
The property is 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 has requested a minimum setback of 300 feet from all other properties with residences.
The decommissioning plan was reviewed by Stanley Consultants, and the plan’s purpose is to ensure the area of the project is able to be returned to conditions at the project’s end.
“If they would like to extend the time period for this project past 35 years, they would have to go through this process all over again,” Nichols said during the meeting.
In April, Clenera and CIPCO announced its execution of a power purchase agreement for Coggon Solar. The solar farm near Coggon is planned to be the second solar agreement with Clenera, after the completion of another 100-megawatt project in Louisa County in southeast Iowa.
The companies already have signed long-term leases with property owners in the area to obtain the land required for the project, its application states. The land currently is used for farming.
If ultimately approved, construction on the project is expected to last less than a year and would aim to begin in March 2022. Construction would require a monthly average of 100 to 200 employees, according to the application.
Once built, the project would be operated remotely and primarily not be staffed, though a maintenance employee or contractor would be on-site at times.
Clenera Director of Development Tom Fitzgerald said one of the primary reasons Coggon was selected as the potential site was because of the available capacity at the Coggon substation.
“It’s some of the cheapest, most competitively priced power CIPCO has ever entered into,” Fitzgerald said. “The power will be used across CIPCO’s service territory in Central Iowa to serve its member cooperatives including Linn County REC.”
Fitzgerald added that the clean energy generated by the solar farm will power 18,000 Iowa homes.
Monday’s meeting at the Linn County Fairgrounds in Central City went late into the night as many residents of the Coggon area asked questions and voiced their concerns or support for the project.
Some concerns expressed by residents were about accountability for decommissioning, taking agricultural land out of production, the aesthetic effect of the solar panels, reduced property values, concerns on local wildlife and the county’s ability to enforce its ordinances.
Many of those who voiced opposition to the project during Monday’s public comment session live in or close to Palo, where another large solar project from NextEra is being proposed.
Greg Bickal, an adjacent landowner on Coggon Road, said he was against the project.
“My retirement could now be living next to an industrial complex and I oppose this,” Bickal said to the commission. “I beg you. Please deny the application. Solar belongs in places that cannot grow crops.”
Laura Robinson, another local resident of the area voiced her opposition as well.
“I wonder how many people who are for this project would vote for it if it was next to their property,” she said.
Others voiced support for industrial solar, citing the needs for renewable energy amid climate change.
Joel Peyton, a participating landowner, said his experience in working with Clenera so far has made him confident in the success of the project.
“Clenera has been nothing but professional to work with …. It is clear Clenera wants to do the right thing,” he said.
“My experiences have reassured me that I'm working with a great developer. I want Coggon Solar to be a template for other solar farms in the state.”
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