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Local residents voice concerns, ask questions about potential solar farm project near Palo
Linn County held its first of two community presentations on its large-scale utility process Tuesday night, although no developer has yet to submit any application
Over a hundred residents of Palo and the surrounding community showed up to ask questions and voice their concerns about a potential utility-scale solar project to Linn County leaders on Tuesday night.
NextEra Energy of Florida is hoping to transform the former Duane Arnold Energy Center into a solar farm, as previously reported. The company has approached landowners in the area, but has not yet submitted an application.
The gymnasium in the Palo Community Center was packed as county officials presented the utility-scale solar farm permitting process to the community. The informational meeting explained the general process, as the county had not received any project applications as of Tuesday.
The potential NextEra project would be planned across 3,500 acres at and near the now-decommissioned nuclear plant in Palo, project manager Kimberly Dickey previously told The Gazette. The project could bring in a $700 million capital investment and about 300 construction jobs, Dickey said.
The project could also create about $41.6 million in tax revenue and result in $50 million in payments to the landowners where it is built, Dickey said.
How the permitting process works
Linn County Planning and Development Director Charlie Nichols explained the process does not start without an application. Once an application from a developer is received, a technical review committee would be held the first Thursday of the month following the application.
After that, it goes through planning and zoning and then to the Board of Supervisors, which would have to vote three times after public comment sessions. A large-scale utility such as a solar farm also would need approval from the Iowa Utilities Board.
The city of Palo doesn’t have any approval authority, but it would get to review the plan and submit comments to the Board of Supervisors, which are “seriously taken into consideration,” Nichols said.
Nichols said there are specific requirements for any utility-scale solar project, including a screening, setback and grading plan, glare minimization from solar panels, flood plain considerations and fencing and security. According to federal law, all utility projects must be fenced off.
“Any developer also has to submit an operations and maintenance plan,” Nichols said. “It also requires a decommissioning and site restoration plan. The plan has to spell out exactly how the site will be restored.”
Most meeting attendees oppose potential project
Almost all the residents at Tuesday’s meeting opposed the potential project. During the public comment period, a person asked people who were opposed to stand up. Almost all the in the room stood.
Residents also had questions and concerns about environmental impact, the impact on Palo’s growth, taking away land for agriculture and how the county would hold any future large-scale utility project accountable to regulations.
Among the 40 people who spoke to county officials was Palo Mayor Eric Van Kerckhove.
“As the mayor of Palo, my concern is the future of growth,” he said. “I feel this could limit our ability to grow, which grows our tax base.”
The mayor added that any potential project could affect future city plans including building new trails. Nichols said the planning commissions and supervisors would take city concerns seriously during any planning process as it is put together.
What residents had to say
Jeff Ralston, a resident of Benton County, said the county’s presentation reassured him about any potential process.
“I’m here with people who have chosen to live in small towns and on rural farms. Our overriding concern is a large company with no vested interest in our community will start a project driven by the interest of profit,” Ralston said. “I think it’s unacceptable without oversight and the oversight you are suggesting here is reassuring.”
Samantha Petersen, a Benton County resident, said her greatest concern is any potential lack of commitment to a solid decommissioning plan.
“I have a feeling if this project gets passed, expansion will continue,” Petersen said. “The way this project is handled will set a precedent for other projects in the future. If decommissioning and recycling plans are not concrete, future generations could be stuck with a devastating situation.”
Another potential project: Solar farm near Coggon
Another solar farm could be built near Coggon as well, according to Kerry Koonce, Central Iowa Power Cooperative’s manager of external affairs.
Koonce previously told The Gazette that Boise, Idaho-based Clenera may construct a facility and sell power to CIPCO through a 25-year power-purchase agreement.
Another meeting set for June 2
Tuesday night’s meeting was the first of two identical presentations. The second meeting will be held at the Linn County Fairgrounds, 201 Central City Rd. in Central City, on June 2 at 6 p.m.
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