116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR RAPIDS — The Coggon Solar project will head into its third consideration next week with one of the biggest remaining questions being: What will the setback distance be for the solar panels from neighboring properties?
After a six-hour meeting Thursday night, Linn County supervisors voted 3-0 to move the project forward to the third vote Tuesday, with another fourth vote possible.
County staffers originally recommended a 300-foot setback. That was raised to a proposed 1,250-feet after the supervisor’s Monday vote on the project — a distance the developer says could kill the project.
The project, a utility-scale solar installation 3 miles west of Coggon, is a partnership between Idaho-based Clenera and the Central Iowa Power Cooperative.
It 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 on rezoning about 750 acres from agricultural to agricultural with a renewable energy overlay. If ultimately approved, the overlay would expire after 35 years.
At the first vote Monday, the supervisors voted for the rezoning, 2-1, and added conditions proposed by Supervisor Louie Zumbach.
The conditions included the 1,250-foot setback and an increase in solar panel height from 18 to 28 inches.
Supervisor Stacey Walker voted no Monday because of the added conditions, saying the conditions were being added without knowing the impact on the project.
Zumbach, who lives in Coggon, said he proposed the 1,200-foot setback because it gives neighboring properties more voice and flexibility.
“I don’t think that extra 950 feet will be used on most of the properties, but that’s just my belief,” he said, adding a 1,250-foot setback — the requirement for large animal feedlots in Iowa — “was not thought to kill this project.”
“I’ve accepted having this project,” he said. “I just feel the people that live next to them need to be represented also. It’s as simple as that.”
The county residents who spoke Thursday night favored the 1,250-foot setback.
But Clenera representatives said such a setback would “kill the project.”
“It will kill this project and any other project in Linn County,” Clenera Vice President of Business Development Jared Mckee said. “We will meet again and come back with something else, but negotiating with each non-participating landowner is not the way to do it.”
Clenera Director of Development Tom Fitzgerald added that a 1,250-foot setback would not work without acquiring more agricultural land, something opponents of the project have opposed since its inception.
“Coggon Solar is not a hog farm,” Fitzgerald said. “It doesn’t smell or make noise, it has minimal traffic and it does not negatively affect air quality. The original 300-foot setback already exceeds typical zoning requirements.”
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.
Walker, in remarks about changing his vote from no to yes, said he was trying to be fair to all parties.
“Last meeting, I took the position that it is probably unwise to place conditions that would necessitate the applicant and others to figure out what that means in such short turnaround time,” Walker said. “I’m trying to be as fair as I can.”
Walker told Clenera he wants to see creative solutions at the next meeting.
“Maybe it’s the case that non-participating landowners at a reduced cost or rebate are able to place their own solar panels on their property,” Walker said. “I think that would be a good gesture.
“I also appreciate the screenings. … 1,250 feet seems excessive, but if it can be greater than the 300 feet, I’d like the applicant to consider that.”
Supervisor Ben Rogers, who voted in favor of the 1,250-setback Monday, said he did not support the setback if it kills the project.
“I supported it to have room for discussion,” Rogers said. “I think the applicant has risen to the occasion to explain to the board the implications of a 1,250 setback.
“With new information, that does give me pause on it. I need to readjust and recalibrate my own views and look at the data, and I know that may disappoint many in this room.”
The Linn County Planning and Zoning Committee in November recommended, in a 6-1 vote, that supervisors deny the application after hours of public comment from residents against the project.
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.
Clenera’s Fitzgerald said Coggon Solar will be a $150 million capital investment that will require around 300 construction jobs at its peak.
On Monday, 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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