A lengthy discussion Monday between Union County Board of Supervisors and Justin Foss from Alliant Energy over setbacks in the county’s proposed solar-power ordinance came to a mutual agreement using exemptions when and where needed.
For weeks, the county has been discussing the details of such an ordinance. Alliant has a proposed solar-power facility east of Creston with construction not expected until 2025.
The county had proposed a setback of 300 feet for electrical substations from an occupied structure. Foss said plans are for Alliant to remodel its substation in the 1700 block of Osage Street. Expansion of the substation would encroach on neighboring businesses and structures, violating the ordinance.
“Does substations needs to broken out as their own separate entity with all the rules about substations,” asked Roger Vicker, a county resident concerned about land use and regulations.
The substation on Osage Street is outside Creston city limits.
“The unintended consequence we have here. We have these substations in more developed areas that are not in city limits. Now, all of a sudden we are not talking about a setback from a rural farmer. You’re talking about a setback in and amongst a developed area. That is where the issue is causing,” Foss said.
Supervisor Dennis Brown interpreted the proposed ordinance language as prohibiting building substations within 300 feet of occupied structures.
“So the question is do we put some addition in there, some language, as far as a board waiver on some things,” said Supervisor Rick Friday. “We don’t know what these plans are. It may be something we may want to be concerned about.”
Francine Ide, another landowner in attendance, said the county should, “error on a more detailed approach than less. At some point there will be new supervisors. They may interpret the wording differently.”
Foss asked the county the difference in setbacks when a wind turbine ordinance was created.
“I’m trying to understand why you think it will be an issue now if it wasn’t an issue then,” Foss said.
Friday said the setback for wind turbines is 1,500 feet.
“I’d like to find a route to exemption or waiver,” Supervisor Ron Riley said.
Foss said the concern was the specification of substation in the ordinance, understanding the substation in question is outside of Creston city limits. Foss questioned the feasibility of the entire project knowing the importance of the substation regulations.
“My lawyers are going to tell me anytime we have to that there is always the risk we won’t get it,” Foss said about exemptions.
Riley agreed with him.
Union County Attorney Shane O’Toole speculated language in the ordinance may prevent them from expanding the substation. He suggested the wording get specific with substations and setbacks so that is clear.
Friday fears not being specific with substations would encourage construction of one that violates setback distances. Foss said the substation upgrade will provide for the solar-power facility.
“Industrial land is tight creating a 300 foot setback in a tight, industrial area is not what we see in any industrial areas across the state. Industrial land is precious and don’t want any restrictions on expanding that,” Foss said
The county has scheduled a public hearing about the proposed ordinance for 6 p.m., Monday, Oct. 25 in the courtroom in the courthouse. Since the courtroom is controlled by the state judicial branch, unless situations change before the date audience members will be required to wear masks.
In other county news, Union County Public Health Director Zach Woods reported 10 cases of COVID-19 were diagnosed last week. The county has seen a drop of new cases by the week. Union County’s positivity rate has also dropped to 2.8 %.