116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR RAPIDS — After this year approving controversial utility-scale solar projects near Coggon and Palo while turning aside recommendations from their staff for a moratorium, Linn County supervisors voted Monday on first consideration to pause any more at least until the end of the year.
The proposed moratorium would have been in effect for up to 12 months or less if the code governing industrial solar installations in the county was updated before then. Instead, the supervisors passed an amendment to allow the moratorium to expire Dec. 31 unless an extension is allowed through a resolution before then.
The board must approve the pause after three considerations, making it likely the moratorium will receive final approval this month.
The proposed moratorium would allow the large projects already approved to continue, but applications for new ones could not be accepted until the pause is over.
“I think our code was a good code a year and a half ago and it still is,” Planning and Development Director Charlie Nichols said. “It’s one of the most robust, but it doesn't mean we can't make it better. We know we have more projects coming in the future and we can show we take these projects very seriously in this county.”
The county said a three-month moratorium would provide a structure with check-ins on progress. The Dec. 31 deadline also would allow the current Board of Supervisors to decide on an extension before a new board is sworn in this January after the November elections.
“It allows our seated board to make that decision since it could be a whole new board after December,” Supervisor Chair Ben Rogers said. “We have the experience, we were the ones sitting through the meetings.”
The second and third votes on the measure will take place Wednesday and Oct. 12. If the moratorium passes, the planning and development department will create review committees to look at specific areas of the renewable energy code, including setbacks, vegetation, screening, agrivoltaics — or co-locating crops with solar arrays — and battery energy storage systems.
Nichols said he never thought a 12-month moratorium was needed, but he said five months would be the fastest the ordinance could be updated.
“I think addressing battery energy storage systems will take longer. … We haven't really dove into that and it really depends how long these different sections of code will take. There are none more important to me than others,” Nichols said.
County staffers have twice recommended moratoriums, but those proposals were voted down 2-1, with Supervisor Louie Zumbach voting in favor while Rogers and Stacey Walker voted against a pause.
The supervisors have approved three utility-scale solar projects this year — one near Coggon and two related ones near the decommissioned Duane Arnold Energy Center nuclear plant. The vote for each project was 2-1, with Zumbach opposed.
Progress on the 640-acre solar farm near Coggon is on hold while a court resolves a lawsuit brought against the supervisors by a family who lives nearby. The date for that trial is not set, but is likely to happen this fall.
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