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The Linn County Planning and Zoning Commission has recommended approval of a renewable energy overlay zoning district rezoning proposal for two industrial-scale solar projects near the former Duane Arnold Energy Center nuclear plant near Palo. Capping a five-hour public meeting July 28 at the Palo Community Center, the commission voted 4-3 to recommend approval of the rezoning request. Commission members Allen Wagner, Curt Eilers, Tina DuBois and Brock Grenis voted in favor of the rezoning request, while commissioners George Maxwell, Diane Brecht and Griffin Kuntz voted in opposition. Under the plan, formalized in November 2021 in a filing with the Iowa Utilities Board, Florida-based NextEra Energy Resources – which announced plans for the solar installation on the Duane Arnold site in March 2021 and have dubbed the project Duane Arnold Solar, with an office already open in Palo – will develop and install 200 megawatts of solar generation and a 75-megawatt battery energy storage facility near the former Duane Arnold nuclear plant, which is no longer in operation and is in the midst of a 60-year decommissioning process. If approved by the county, the project would be constructed in two phases. Duane Arnold Solar I is a proposed 50-megawatt solar energy project on approximately 316 acres of agricultural land within an 857-acre area project site in Linn County, while Duane Arnold Solar II is a proposed 150-megawatt solar energy project and a 75-megawatt battery energy storage system on approximately 815 acres of largely agricultural land within a 1,780-acre area project site, also in Linn County. Once completed, ownership of both projects would be transferred to Alliant Energy, through its subsidiary Interstate Power & Light Company (IPL), for ongoing operation. The project is expected to be completed by the end of 2024 and would make Alliant the largest combined solar and battery storage operator in the state. The project already has a leg up in the approval process. The Iowa Utilities Board in late July issued an order granting a request for waivers and certificates of public convenience, use and necessity for the Duane Arnold Solar. Under the order, the IUB will issue the certificates for the two projects if they’re approved by the Linn County Board of Supervisors under the county’s utility-scale solar installation ordinance. Public comments submitted prior to the July 28 meeting expressed concerns in a number of areas, including:
- Concerns that a change of this scale to the landscape would have negative impacts on local wildlife and vegetation;
- Concerns that first responders will not be equipped to deal with potential emergencies within the project area;
- Concerns that BESS (Battery Energy Storage System) technology is too new to be properly studied;
- Concerns that the project will not be constructed to sufficient standards to withstand natural disasters;
- Concerns about the project causing property value declines in the surrounding communities; and
- Concerns about the possible presence of PFAS (Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substance, known as the “forever chemical”) in solar panels.
- The potential reduction of carbon dioxide emissions in energy generation;
- Increased tax revenue and local jobs;
- The need for additional electricity generation in the region; and
- The comprehensive nature of the application.