116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
The Linn County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to postpone its third and final consideration on the controversial solar project by Coggon by one week.
The supervisors cited the complexities of the utility-scale solar installation near Coggon as a reason to take more time, before voting late Tuesday to have more discussion on setback limits and solar panel height with the county staff.
The project is a partnership between Idaho-based Clenera and the Central Iowa Power Cooperative. While the project has enlisted property owners to voluntarily take part in the array, it has drawn opposition because of its large scale, because it temporarily removes farmland from growing crops and because some neighboring property owners say it comes too close to encroaching on their land.
“The reason we are taking our time is it’s complicated,” Supervisor Ben Rogers said. “There’s a lot to be mindful of. It impacts climate change, economic development, and properties. I won’t feel bad spending time and resources to listen and ensure we do this right.”
The project aims to develop 100 megawatts of electricity — enough to power 18,000 homes — over the project’s 35-year life span. Its developer estimates the project will offset approximately 300 million pounds of carbon dioxide during its life span.
The supervisors are voting whether to rezoning about 750 acres from agricultural to agricultural with a renewable energy overlay. If ultimately approved, the overlay would expire after 35 years.
Coggon Solar Project
The proposed facility, a 640-acre project three miles west of Coggon, is a partnership between Idaho-based Clenera and Central Iowa Power Cooperative named Coggon Solar LLC.
Source: Linn County
The setback limit for the project from other properties still is in question as no motion was made to adjust the 1,250 foot condition that was proposed by Supervisor Louie Zumbach. But Rogers and Supervisor Stacey Walker have said they support the 300-foot setback that county staff came up with initially.
County staffers originally recommended a 300-foot setback at the start of the supervisor meetings. That was raised to a proposed 1,250-feet after the supervisor’s first vote on the project — a distance the developer has said could kill the project.
At the first vote last Monday, the supervisors voted for the rezoning, 2-1, and the added conditions proposed by Zumbach.
The conditions included the 1,250-foot setback and an increase in solar panel height from 18 to 28 inches.
“We began at 50 (feet), which was completely unacceptable,” Rogers said. “I support the 300-foot setback.”
At the last meeting, Clenera made a counter offer to keep the 300-foot setback with the company offering to install vegetative screening. They reiterated on Tuesday night that they were sticking with that deal in the project proposal.
-1,250 foot setback from neighboring buildings. Developer Clanera says the setback could kill the project. Supervisors have sense expressed the final setback will most likely be 300 feet.
-Solar panel height increased from 18 to 28 inches to give room for seed mix and vegetation under the panels to grow and thrive. Clenera said the lower edge of the panels edges are usually above 18 inches as the panels tilt and are only at 18 inches for 45 to 75 minutes per day.
-Life of project is set at 35 years and the solar overlay put into law by the county would automatically expire then
-Participation: Landowners have voluntarily agreed and signed contracts with Clanera to participate in the project
Last week, Clenera Director of Development Tom Fitzgerald offered an alternative of keeping the original 300-foot setback but installing a minimum of 1,000 feet of screening — trees, bushes and hedges at least 8 feet tall — along the fence line of neighboring residences.
“We are doing the things we are asked,” Fitzgerald said. “The standard of 300 feet is already in excess of what most solar ordinances require in the United States.”
Clenera Vice President of Business Development Jared Mckee also argued against any delays in voting.
“We do not want to delay,” Mckee said. “We want to move forward. We want to be good neighbors but any negotiations we may make with neighbors are completely separate from this process. If this was approved tonight, I would still have those conversations. I don’t see any new info coming into the board making a decision. I feel there’s no time to wait and the decision can be made.”
Zumbach argued Mckee’s point about Clenera continuing negotiations with neighbors even after a vote.
“I don’t see in anything that you’re going to continue to negotiate once this is voted on,” Zumbach said to Mckee. “But I applaud you for going that way. I think we both know that’s not going to happen. … So far you’ve approached this, the setbacks, as your way or the highway.”
Walker said that because the supervisors indicated at the last meeting that Tuesday night’s meeting wouldn’t be the final vote on the project, the board should honor its word with the delay.
“I’m not a fan of dragging this out longer than it needs to be,” Walker said. “It is absolutely the case there are residents that don’t agree on this issue. I don’t think the board will get to a place where every interest group is 100 percent happy with the outcome. We have set out criteria for which industrial solar projects are to meet and we have a recommendation before us from the planning and development office to move forward with this.”
Coggon Solar filed its application for the project in July for 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 recycled or sold on the secondary market.
The application also has conditions, including a $1 million performance bond from Clenera to back up its decommissioning plan and one saying developers are responsible for any storm-related cleanup.
Fitzgerald said Coggon Solar will be a $150 million capital investment that will require around 300 construction jobs at its peak.
Last week, 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.
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