The Linn County Board of Supervisors has unanimously approved an updated ordinance for utility-scale solar projects in Linn County following the third and final reading of the ordinance. The new ordinance is effective upon publication in the Gazette, which is expected to happen within the next week.
Changes in the updated ordinance include:
- Minimum required panel height of 24” to encourage the establishment of diverse, native vegetation.
- Minimum setbacks for solar panels of 300’ to occupied dwellings, and minimum setbacks for battery energy storage systems of 200’ from property lines.
- Required vegetative screening for all dwellings within 1000’ of solar project boundaries.
- New decommissioning plan requirements, including hazardous material testing and a requirement to recalculate decommissioning costs every five years.
- Noise limitations for solar and battery energy storage projects.
- Agricultural Impact Mitigation Plan and Vegetation Management Plan submittal requirements.
- Requiring the applicant to receive a minimum passing score on the utility-scale solar scorecard.
The updated ordinance comes nearly a year after the Board of Supervisors placed a moratorium on accepting utility-scale solar applications to allow time for Planning & Development staff to create Renewable Energy Committees to help closely examine and analyze Linn County’s renewable energy standards, taking lessons learned from the two utility-scale solar rezoning applications approved by the County in 2022. The Renewable Energy Review Committees were advisory committees formed with the specific goal of exploring parts of Linn County's renewable energy overlay zoning district requirements for utility-scale renewable energy projects. The four committees focused on: Good Neighbor Practices (setbacks and screening), Battery Energy Storage Systems (placement and safety considerations), Balancing Agriculture and Solar (vegetation requirements, agrivoltaic considerations), and Lifecycle Costs (decommissioning plan requirements and considerations, operation and maintenance plan requirements and considerations).
Linn County Planning & Development staff used statements from the Renewable Energy Review Committees, the Board of Supervisors, and the public to draft the proposed ordinance changes.
“I am pleased with the amount of time and work our Planning & Development staff and citizen-led Renewable Energy Committees put into developing a much-improved ordinance regarding utility-scale solar projects in Linn County,” said Linn County Board of Supervisors Chair Louis J. Zumbach. “My hope is that this ordinance will help make utility-scale solar more palatable for those living near it while preserving private property rights.”
View a copy of the new, updated ordinance (PDF).
In addition to the updated ordinance, staff created a utility-scale solar scorecard to assist in the evaluation of utility-scale solar project applications. The Board of Supervisors approved the scorecard in a 2-1 vote, after modifying the scorecard point totals for agreeing to source labor locally and for locating a project on medium or high CSR-valued land.
View a copy of the new, updated solar scorecard (PDF).
At a special meeting on Aug. 16, 2023, the Linn County Planning & Zoning Commission voted to accept the proposed ordinance changes for utility-scale solar projects in Linn County and recommended the updated ordinance for approval by the Board of Supervisors.
The current solar moratorium is set to expire Sept. 30, 2023.
All current solar site applications passed with a 2-1 vote.
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For more information on the utility-scale solar in Linn County, visit LinnCountyIowa.gov/SolarFarms.