November 26, 2021

Solar: How close is too close?

Solar-power setbacks and views highlight public hearing

Should U.S. Highway 34 be a positive showcase to Union County and Creston or should it show everything about both entities?

Setbacks and what people could see with solar-power facilities was emphasized during the public hearing held Monday during the Union County Board of Supervisors meeting. A second reading of the ordinance was approved to be held 10 a.m., Monday, Nov. 29. The supervisors can have up to three readings before final approval.

For months, the supervisors have been writing and editing a commercial scale solar-power ordinance based on Alliant Energy’s proposal to build such a facility east of Creston along Highway 34. Construction isn’t expected to start until 2024.

“I’d like to dispute the setbacks especially along Highway 34,” said Retta Ripperger. “People come in to town. People pass through our area. We want to keep that as attractive as possible.” Ripperger said her comments were also influenced by her selling real estate.

She called the solar-power facility west of Corning also on Highway 34 an “eye sore.”

“I would not want to see everywhere where there wasn’t a house along 34 I would not want to see solar. All they see is black instead of our beautiful countryside.”

The proposed ordinance states the facilities must be at least 75 feet from a paved road, like U.S. Highway 34.

Ron Dunphy said no one asked him about the environment when he built a house near Iris Avenue and Highway 34.

“Try living within several hundred yards of Highway 34. We can be awake and not most nights, but many nights when a semis get off in the rumble strip. It’s not the sight of the truck that’s bothersome it’s the (rumble strip). You’re not sure if he’s coming in the yard or in the house or just having to ease over in the rumble strip. Nothing to do with sight,” he said.

References were made of a solar-power facility within the city of Dubuque and its visibility and proximity to popular streets. Dunphy said he has been to Dubuque.

“If you’re not careful where you throw your trash, especially if your beer can still has beer in it, you might get it onto the solar. You’re that close to the highway. I didn’t find anything about the whole system that was unattractive.”

He also said there is nothing “unattractive” about the solar-panels outside Corning.

Dunphy said he is in favor of solar power

“We are a little bit dragging our feet behind what is happening nationally,” he said about with renewable engergy projects. “Come on Union County, let’s go. Get behind it and make it happen,” he said.

Kathryn Prentice said the influence on the environment and aesthetics of solar power does have importance. She asked Ripperger what would be a setback distance she would favor. Ripperger answered a tenth of a mile. Prentice asked if some kind of vegetation grown near the facility to obscure the view would help. Alliant Energy representative David Vollmar, who was in attendance, said the company uses that strategy.

“A majority of the communities or businesses we work with want the solar fields visible. They want to show the economic growth they are showing or how they are progressive,” he said. “They want people to see.”

Francine Ide, who also was in attendance, called the aesthetics “eye of the beholder.” She asked the county how far beyond recreational areas would be considered as it still being in view. Supervisor Chairman said he did not know a distance but said Alliant Energy is willing to do that study. Ide also inquired how much variant the county will have on those studies.

“There needs to be a row of trees or something so you see something that’s natural that blends in with nature which is what our outdoor tourists are looking for and our panels are there. You just don’t know it,” said Roger Vicker.

Prentice considered Highway 34 in that context.

“People are not driving 34 necessarily to view nature. People drive down for a multitude of reasons,” she said. “The larger discussion would be what do we want 34 to be for as a community? What do we want to showcase there? Do we want to solely show case the farm fields and nature or do we want to showcase community’s partnership with companies in diverse energy generation. Maybe the answer is yes to all of that. Just make sure you don’t completely wipe out the view one of thing for another.”

Ripperger said she’s not opposed to the solar, just have it on the “other side of the hill,” she said.

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.