116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Palo solar projects approved with final supervisor vote
Linn County Board of Supervisors vote 2-1 at all three meetings to approve the NextEra utility-scale solar projects
PALO — After three 2-1 votes by the Linn County supervisors, the NextEra Duane Arnold Solar projects near Palo have been given the official green light
For the third time in two weeks, the vote Tuesday evening was split along party lines, with Democrats Ben Rogers and Stacey Walker voting yes and Republican Louie Zumbach voting no.
The Iowa Utilities Board already has approved the projects.
“It is rare that you come across projects that bring together working people, business and industry, commerce and environmentalists that in most cases have competing interests but have found a project where several interests align and a project that can be used to get at the climate crisis we face,” Walker said.
“I don't imagine this project is perfect, but it is a starting point, and it's my hope going forward that there will be learnings from this project.”
Zumbach, speaking of the county’s ordinance and project, said “I don't believe we are exactly doing our due diligence. I think it's too vague.”
In the first meeting on the project Aug. 29, Zumbach moved to add a negotiable setback, allowing for up to 1,250 feet between private property and the solar farm. The county’s setback rule is 300 feet for utility-scale solar projects. The motion was voted down 2-1 but many in attendance at the second meeting shared their support for that idea.
Alliant to operate
While NextEra will develop the rural Linn County project near Palo, Alliant Energy has filed a proposal with the Iowa Utilities Board to buy the large-scale solar farm from NextEra and further develop it into the state’s largest solar and battery storage facility, if the utilities board approves the plan.
Duane Arnold Solar I project proposes to use 316 acres of an 857-acre area to place photovoltaic solar arrays capable of generating up to 50 megawatts of energy.
Duane Arnold Solar II project would use 815 acres of a 1,780-acre area to place solar arrays capable of generating up to 150 MW. It also would include a 75-MW, four-hour battery energy storage facility.
The battery energy storage system will have about 96 20-by-8-foot containers that will house 7,040 lithium-ion battery modules.
NextEra representatives have said they plan to have the Palo projects operational by December 2024. Construction is projected to begin in the first quarter of 2023.
NextEra, which has operated in Iowa since 1999 and has 12 wind farms in the state, said it plans to invest $800 million in the solar project, including $50 million paid to landowners for voluntary easements over the project’s 30-year life span.
It would be the company’s first solar project in Iowa. The project is estimated to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by about 9.49 million metric tons per year.
As at the other two meetings on the project, dozens of people spoke during the public comment period, lasting for a few hours, in support of the project and against.
Renee Potts, the daughter of a participating landowner, tearfully shared that she was at the meeting in support of her father.
“Running a farm is expensive for people who have smaller farms,” she said. “I know our farm most years, we happen to run in the red and not the black ….
“Solar is the right choice and for us, personally, this keeps the farm in the family.”
The city of Palo unanimously passed a resolution earlier this year asking the supervisors to vote against the project. In August, the city of Cedar Rapids passed a resolution supporting the project.
“If it is your conviction and steadfast belief that this project is right for our community, … then Palo will do what Palo must,” Palo Mayor Eric Van Kerckhove told the supervisors on Tuesday night. “We will find opportunity within this challenge because nobody else is going to do it for Palo …. We will rise to the occasion and find a way to move our community forward.”
In the Aug. 29 meeting, Van Kerckhove said the projects are “directly in the path of Palo’s growth. The general consensus of the citizens of Palo, (they) have expressed to the council that the community is opposed to the development.”
This is the second utility-scale solar project the county has approved this year. In January, the supervisors approved developer Clenera’s Coggon project in a 2-1 vote after planning and zoning commission members voted 6-1 to recommend denial.
However, progress on the 640-acre solar farm near Coggon is on hold while a court resolves a case brought against the supervisors by a family who lives near the site.
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