116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR RAPIDS — Having approved a utility-grade solar project near Coggon and preparing to review another near Palo, the Linn County Board of Supervisors rejected a recommendation from its staff Monday to place either a six-month moratorium on future facilities or wait until a revised solar ordinance is adopted.
The motion failed, with Supervisors Stacey Walker and Ben Rogers voting against it and Supervisor Louie Zumbach voting for it.
The moratorium proposed by staff would’ve allowed the county to study and update its utility-scale solar ordinance, Linn County Planning and Development Director Charlie Nichols said earlier.
“The purpose of this moratorium is to incorporate the lessons learned from the Coggon project,” Nichols said. “Such as not using salvage value in the decommissioning plan, requiring 300-foot setbacks, requiring agricultural mitigation and vegetation plans, etc., in our code before we receive any additional applications for utility-scale solar projects.”
The discussions and potential changes to the ordinance come as another utility-scale solar project from NextEra is in the works near Palo, and after a lengthy process for the Coggon Solar project that ultimately passed last month with a series of added conditions, including a 300-foot setback from neighboring properties not part of the facility — instead of the ordinance’s 50-foot requirement.
“This last process wasn't very fun for supervisors, public or applicants,” Nichols said. The proposed moratorium would have helped “shorten the process for future applicants and iron out what the county wants upfront.”
The proposed project near Palo is larger than the one approved near Coggon. NextEra said it will invest about $800 million in the arrays at and near the site of the Duane Arnold Energy Center, the now-closed nuclear power plant. As was the case with landowners included in the Coggon facility, NextEra says it won’t ask for the use of eminent domain and will sign voluntary easements with landowners. The company said the facility would be decommissioned after 30 years but raised the possibility that landowners could be asked for an extension of up to 10 years.
NextEra has said it would file an application for the facility this summer with the Iowa Utility Board.
Walker said he would’ve been in support of a local moratorium set closer to 30 days, but felt six months was too long.
“I’m not sure we need to add an arbitrary timeline to give us more time to research when that’s something we do naturally in the course of everyday work,” Walker said. “I am not in support of a six-month moratorium.”
Rogers agreed with Walker about the amount of time and cited other factors at play, including possible state legislation regarding large solar projects.
“We now have a better understanding of balancing the needs of having industrial-scale solar,” Rogers said. “There’s also legislative bills to require 1,250 foot setbacks for future projects. There is some concern if we were to do any type of delay, that gives a clear window to legislators to fast-track a bill that could freeze out industrial scale solar. … I do think there’s benefits for us to walk and chew gum at the same time.”
Zumbach, who supported the new moratorium motion and proposed the first attempt at moratorium attempt last summer, said he didn’t think six months was set in stone.
“I think Charlie (Nichols) has committed to doing this in the shortest amount of time possible,” Zumbach said. “It’s about the county moving forward with a more defined plan. … it’s not about stopping a project.”
In 2013, when the county’s solar ordinance initially was adopted, a decision on any large-scale solar project would have been made by the county’s Board of Adjustment, made up of nonelected individuals, and could have been decided during one meeting.
The ordinance since has been amended twice to give county supervisors the final say after a series of public meetings. The ordinance could be amended again without the moratorium.
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