Home / News / Judge rules against neighbors who opposed rezoning for Palo solar project

Judge rules against neighbors who opposed rezoning for Palo solar project

Jul 25, 2023Jul 25, 2023

Ruling signals solar farm near former Duane Arnold nuclear plant can move forward

Aug. 5, 2023 5:00 am

CEDAR RAPIDS — A judge has ruled against Palo-area residents who filed a lawsuit last year opposing the rezoning of land for two industrial-scale solar projects.

The lawsuit argued the Linn County Board of Supervisors did not follow county land-use policies and used illegal spot zoning to rezone nearly 2,000 acres to allow for a renewable energy project near the decommissioned Duane Arnold nuclear plant.

Sixth Judicial District Court Judge Lars Anderson denied those claims.

“The (county’s) Comprehensive Plan provides for preservation of agriculture as well as protection of resources, under which the development of renewable energy is appropriate,” Anderson wrote in the July 20 decision.

Anderson said the 1,934 acres rezoned for the Duane Arnold solar project didn’t constitute spot zoning because it wasn’t a “small island” of land and because the new uses fit with the county’s goals to provide “protection and enhancement of the health and safety of all Linn County residents though the use of renewable energy.”

Anderson said NextEra Energy, developer of the Duane Arnold solar project, has paid a “substantial performance bond” to cover future costs of decommissioning the site. He also said the county provided adequate public notice before voting on the rezoning.

Anderson assessed outstanding court costs to the plaintiffs — Joseph Kerner, Theodore Hoffman, Julie Hoffman, Randy Lane, Brenda Lane, Jessie Newman, Melissa Newman, David Rutledge, Donald Nelson, Traci Nelson and Randy Banes.

Another lawsuit against supervisors over a solar project — this time in Coggon — was dismissed in February. The board voted 2-1 to rezone land for a 640-acre solar farm owned by Coggon Solar LLC, a partnership between Idaho-based Clenera and Central Iowa Power Cooperative.

The Palo decision signals the Duane Arnold Solar Project may soon be able to move forward.

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“Linn County has been successful in two lawsuits brought by citizens against our processes for approving utility scale solar projects,” Linn County Supervisor Ben Rogers said Friday. “We are confident that if it is appealed the lower court ruling will remain in place.”

The Duane Arnold Solar I project would use 316 acres of an 857-acre plot for photovoltaic solar arrays capable of generating up to 50 megawatts of energy.

Duane Arnold Solar II project would use 815 acres of a 1,780-acre plot to place solar arrays capable of generating up to 150 MW. It also would include a 75-MW, four-hour battery energy storage facility at the site.

NextEra, which has operated in Iowa since 1999, said in June 2022 it plans to invest $800 million in the projects, including $50 million paid to landowners over the project's 30-year life span. The Palo site will be NextEra’s first solar project in Iowa.

The three-member Board of Supervisors voted in June to extend its moratorium on new industrial solar applications until Sept. 30.

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