April 01, 2023

Union County begins solar ordinance creation

By John Van Nostrand, Managing Editor

In what is expected to have multiple meetings in the future, Union County Board of Supervisors Monday discussed a few of the possible details of how a solar-energy ordinance for the county could be written.

Earlier this spring, the county was informed of a proposed commercial scale solar-energy development project, that is still in the works, but county officials are pondering uniform regulations should the energy-producing concept grow more in the county. No action was taken.

“This is very informal,” Supervisor Chairman Ron Riley said about the exchange of information with other county officials and a representative from MidAmerican Energy. “We don’t want to write it, just to write it,” he said. “We don’t want to be so strict we not have development.”

Setbacks, maximum amount of land dedicated to solar-power and decommission plans were part of the conversations.

Matt Ott, a representative from MidAmerican Energy, said less than 1 % of Adair County’s total land amount is dedicated to solar power in an ordinance approved earlier this year. Comments from others were how certain amounts of land used may limit the number of possible participants. Supervisor Dennis Brown said he was not clear on capping amounts of land wondering how one can defend an arbitrary number.

Setbacks can vary depending upon the location, according to Matt Ott, a representative from MidAmerican Energy. Some setbacks can be as close at 50 feet from a roadway. Proximity to other structures can also play a part in determining a setback minimum.

Supervisor Rick Friday said he would like to get the Afton and Creston fire departments involved to know how fire departments will respond to emergencies at a solar-power structure. Ott said it is common for a solar-power generator to have a lifespan up to 30 years, although many of the components can be replaced. Ott added there are materials used to prevent any sun glares from being a nuisance or hazard.

Riley said he does not want responsibility for decommission, when the devices are no longer needed and must be removed, to fall on the landowner. Discussion was how decommission funds could be saved and easily accessed in the future. But knowing the potential for the sale of solar-power units over its lifetime ,it is unlikely who will own the operation if needed to be dismantled.

Friday wondered should there be an economic shift or change in how electricity is created eliminating solar power needs at virtually the same time, can those funds be preserved to guarantee all the units can be removed.

Riley said he reviewed similar ordinances fro Louisa, Mills and Adair counties in comparison.

He noted not every detail was the same in each county. Louisa and Mills counties had much in common, but those counties also have zoning. A solar-power project that began producing earlier this year is on about 800 acres.

John Van Nostrand


An Iowa native, John's newspaper career has mostly been in small-town weeklies from the Rocky Mountains to the Mississippi River. He first stint in Creston was from 2002 to 2005.