June 20, 2021

Adair County supervisors pass solar ordinance Wednesday

GREENFIELD — An ordinance passed by the Adair County Board of Supervisors Wednesday set parameters for future utility-scale solar energy development in the county.

The ordinance passed by 3-2 vote with Jodie Hoadley, Jerry Walker and Matt Wedemeyer voting in favor and Steve Shelley and John Twombly voting against. Shelley said he voted no because some of the setback distances are too far. Twombly said the 400-acre cap is unnecessary.

Twombly stated that his reason for dissenting is because he feels the 400-acre cap is unnecessary.

The supervisors waived the second and third reading of the ordinance.

The ordinance

The ordinance includes a cap of 400 total acres of utility-scale solar energy development in the county. There is an appeal process outlined in the ordinance for those denied a request to erect such systems. A permit process carries a $100 fee.

Setbacks in the ordinance are 1,000 feet from an occupied residence, 250 feet from the property line of any non-participating parcel, 50 feet from the road right of way, a radius of 150 feet from the center of the intersection and five miles from the property line of a public airport.

Non-participating and participating landowners may sign a waiver stating they allow utility scale solar energy systems closer to them than the distances outlined in the ordinance.

There are provisions in the ordinance for fencing, insurance, ground cover underneath the panels, road use agreements and a decomissioning plan.

Feedback

A public hearing was held with about 25 persons gathered, either in person or on the phone. All residents who spoke during the were in favor of the supervisors approving such an ordinance. MidAmerican Energy project developer Matt Ott spoke in favor of solar development.

Since early March, residents have shared concerns with the county’s elected officials that if certain parameters, such as setbacks weren’t set soon, the county would potentially incur a large amount of acres of solar panels.

Comments shared dealt with a wide array of concerns residents had, as eight different individuals spoke.

Glare from panels, sound from panels that move toward the sun and a decomissioning plan were all mentioned. Some are also worried about the impact solar panels could have on the productivity of the agricultural sector.

Tammy Baier of rural Orient is one who asked about the decomissioning plan; what happens to unwanted solar panels.

“I’m mainly wanting to make sure we don’t end up with the solar panels at our landfill,” she said during the public hearing.

Stuart resident Curt Beane said he liked the setbacks.

Lyle Beane stated MidAmerican Energy, the company that was the main developer on the Orient and Arbor Hill wind turbine farms, completed early last year, had mistreated the county in several ways. He said the county should be leery of more developers coming in as forcefully as they did.

“There’s no reason for us to allow a company that acts like that to come in and abuse us,” he said. “There’s no reason.”

Karen Seley of rural Greenfield said the 400-acre cap on utility-scale solar development in the county is appropriate, however there’s no way for the county to know how many acres of development have already been accounted. The supervisors have been informed of a solar farm be installed near 130th Street and Walnut Avenue southeast of Stuart.

Jayne Steffen spoke on various nuisances she said solar panels could create. She warned the board to do their own homework on these issues and what could happen down the road if replacement parts are installed, upgrades are made or technology evolves.

“We need to be proactive, not reactive, in order to protect the rural lifestyle enjoyed by those who choose to live here,” Steffen said.

Jane Cooper, a small business owner from Bridgewater, stated that though the wind turbines aren’t close to her home, it is surrounded on three sides by them. She encouraged the board to find good, reliable information going forward on solar energy as they make decisions.

Cooper also said she is worried about taxation and utility costs.

“Who’s going to benefit from the solar panels? Us, or someone in Chicago or Florida?,” she said. “We’re the ones putting up with them, we’re the ones living around them, we should reap some of the benefits.”

Ott disagreed with the board’s setback distances and cap on total acres of solar in the county, saying 400 acres is a very small amount of the county. That amount of acres greatly hinders those who do wish to participate in utility-scale solar energy.

“That will really severely limit landowners’ ability to use their property for solar. Solar’s a very passive energy source with no discernible noise,” Ott said. “I know there’s concern sometimes about the glare, but the glare is basically equivalent to bare soil. What we’re really concerned with is people’s ability to use their property for solar. Our recommendation is that the setbacks would be more in line with other counties and jurisdictions throughout Iowa.”

Ott also stated the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) should have jurisdiction on what can be within a certain range of an airport, rather than the supervisors setting an ordinance that limits solar within five miles of the airport.

On split vote, it passed

Hoadley accused Ott of stating there is no solar-energy development in the county when she said there has. By this time in the meeting, Ott was no longer in attendance via telephone. Hoadley said the ordinance is also an open door for residents to work together if they want solar energy on their land.

“In my eyes, this is to protect the residents of Adair County. It’s not say we can’t have solar, it’s saying let’s step back, take a look, and if you want it on your land, let your neighbors know,” Hoadley said. “We need this protection for our county.”

Matt Wedemeyer said the ordinance will allow the county to slow down and evaluate on a case by case basis any future solar development.

“If everyone likes [solar panels] we can revisit it. I’ve had one person I’ve talked to who is in support of having solar panels like we have wind turbines, so I feel we’re doing the right thing,” Wedemeyer said.



Caleb Nelson

Caleb Nelson has served as News Editor of the Adair County Free Press and Fontanelle Observer since Oct. 2017. He and his wife Kilee live in Greenfield. In Greenfield and the greater Adair County area, he values the opportunity to tell peoples' stories, enjoys playing guitar, following all levels of sports, and being a part of his local church.