Sara Ritchie Alden of Center Point maintains her group, Iowa for Responsible Solar, isn’t opposed to renewable energy. In fact, many members of the group – which she said total in the thousands, mostly in Linn County – have solar panels installed at their homes and businesses for personal use. “Where we take issue,” Ms. […]
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Sara Ritchie Alden of Center Point maintains her group, Iowa for Responsible Solar, isn’t opposed to renewable energy.
In fact, many members of the group – which she said total in the thousands, mostly in Linn County – have solar panels installed at their homes and businesses for personal use.
“Where we take issue,” Ms. Alden said, “is the placement of industrial-scale solar on productive agricultural ground and around residential areas. Industrial use in the generation of electricity is not farming. Farming is the raising of crops and livestock for food.”
The current primary concern of Iowa for Industrial Solar is the Duane Arnold Solar project, under which Florida-based NextEra Energy is pursuing plans for a large-scale solar energy operation on and around the grounds of the now-shuttered Duane Arnold Energy Center nuclear plant near Palo.
Under the first two phases of that project, formalized Nov. 2 in a filing with the Iowa Utilities Board, NextEra would develop and install 200 megawatts of solar generation and a 75-megawatt battery energy storage facility near the former nuclear plant. Once the installation is complete, expected by the end of 2024, Alliant Energy will own and operate the solar generation and battery storage projects.
NextEra’s original industrial-scale solar proposal, rolled out in March, comprised an estimated 3,500 acres on and near the Duane Arnold property, with a projected capital investment of $700 million.
Since that announcement, area residents have voiced concerns at a pair of public meetings, focused largely on the repurposing of agricultural land, potential impact on property values, environmental concerns and the alteration of the area’s largely rural character.
Ms. Alden said according to information she’s reviewed, the project could cover a large swath of land in western Linn County, from Center Point to the north to Highway 30 to the south, altering for decades to come the rural landscape many residents enjoy.
Under the proposal, she said, “There are people whose homes are completely surrounded by industrial-scale solar panels. These people live (in a rural area) to be out in the open, enjoy nature and live within the farming community, and that all gets replaced with seven-foot chain link fencing and a sea of black glass panels. If you think about the country, you think about greenery, open spaces, cattle, crops, barns. I don’t see fencing and black glass. It changes the feeling of the area. People are invested in their communities. This isn’t what anybody signed up for.”
Ms. Alden said she’s also concerned about the review process for industrial-scale solar projects in Linn County. There currently aren’t any such projects in the county, but unlike other requests to rezone agricultural land, which have typically been denied for parcels with a Corn Suitability Rating (CSR) above 65, Ms. Alden said solar projects could be allowed under a renewable energy overlay, which would use different approval standards and not require a complete rezoning.
“The county does a great job protecting agricultural land because of the farming industry in Linn County,” she said. “A renewable energy overlay removes that land from being evaluated by the same criteria that every other development has to go through. It’s less stringent.”
Ms. Alden said her group is also interested in another industrial-scale solar project near Coggon proposed by Coggon Solar LLC, a joint venture of Idaho-based Clenera Energy and the Central Iowa Power Cooperative (CIPCO). Two meetings are set to review that project, including a Technical Review Committee meeting at 8:30 a.m. Nov. 15 at the Linn County Public Service Center and a Planning and Zoning Commission meeting at 6:30 p.m. Nov. 29 at the Linn County Fairgrounds in Central City.
No official meetings have been set yet to review the Duane Arnold Solar project, but developers have said they hope to have an initial meeting with Linn County officials by year’s end.
As the review process unfolds, Ms. Alden said she simply hopes her group has a voice in the process and that their concerns are heard and acknowledged.
“Our county has no experience with industrial-scale solar,” she said. “And based on research done in other communities, typically once you approve one (solar) project, it’s very difficult to deny subsequent projects. Palo is a very small community. They are going to get swallowed up if there are subsequent projects.”