By John Van Nostrand, CNA Managing Editor
On its agenda for a second consecutive week, Union County Board of Supervisors again discussed Monday solar-power production in the county.
Earlier this spring, the county was given a proposal for a 400 acre solar-power facility east of Creston. Wanting to be prepared for the high-tech adventure, supervisors continued discussion about the operation with utility company officials and others.
At the request last week of Supervisor Rick Friday, Creston Fire Chief Todd Jackson and Afton Fire Chief Brett Weiss, were in attendance Monday about using emergency services at a solar-power facility.
“There are very few moving parts,” said Justin Foss, a representative of Alliant Energy about the infrastructure. “There is no open flame and we don’t have lots of oil 200 foot up in the air,” he said referring to a wind turbine.
Jackson said he has had discussions with other property owners who have installed solar-power units on a smaller scale, like houses and businesses. But he was interested in how commercial scale solar power would be impacted by a vehicle accident or fire.
Foss said during construction, gravel is placed on the area for the transformer. A vast majority of the remaining project is kept in its natural state. The area underneath the panels are mowed in the first years and weeds are treated. As part of contractual agreements, Foss said should the rows of solar panels be removed, the area must be returned to agricultural land.
Considering dry conditions that cause a grass fire, Jackson asked about the access to the land. The paths between rows of solar panels is wide enough for an all-terrain-vehicle.
“In a grassfire we protect the structures before the grass,” said Afton Fire Chief Weiss.
Foss said each unit of solar panels will have the equivalent of breakers to help maintenance and emergency crews isolate the problem area.
The solar-panel site is expected to be surrounded by chain-link fencing and gates that will have multiple access points.
Although the exact area for the 400 acre site has not been determined, Foss said areas east of Creston are being considered. The solar panels would not be contiguous in the 400 acres as topography and sources of water will be avoided during construction.
“It’s not one, solid 400 acre block,” Foss said.
Foss said setbacks for solar-power facilities are at least 150 feet from structures and 50 feet from property lines.
Foss explained 400 acres is likely to be a limit on the size of a solar-power project since the amount of electricity it can create won’t be enough to overload the power grid it will be connected. The site will have access to an electrical substation.
“It’s a self-imposed cap,” he said.
He added the electricity generated by the solar-panels will likely be used first within Union County. Foss said the Union County site was also selected because of Alliant Energy’s customer base int he area and having an operation center in Creston.
“The power grid has room,” he said. “This is where it starts. Sunday mornings when the only thing is church and it will go on from there,” he said how electricity will be directed to the grid and eventually distributed elsewhere.
Foss was also optimistic future technologies will make a decommission plan efficient as recycling solar-power components, “We haven’t even dreamed of yet.”