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Clinton County Board of Supervisors approves $250M solar farm project Thursday night

The project headed by Ranger Power is expected to begin construction in the fall.

GRAND MOUND, Iowa — UPDATE: The Clinton County Board of Supervisors unanimously voted Thursday night to approve the $250 million Hawkeye Solar Project in Grand Mound, Iowa.

Close to 150 people attended the meeting Thursday night. The meeting lasted two and a half hours as the board went through each revised point of the application and the board listened to public feedback and took questions on the project up until the vote.

Multiple times the county attorney said the board is required to uphold county law and that the solar farm application does meet what current ordinances state.

During the meeting, one of the supervisors, Tom Determan, said the board tried as hard as it could to get the best deal for everyone in the county.

"Many people thought that we could stop this, and from my perspective, is they followed our ordinance that was in place. They met every requirement that was put on them," supervisor Jim Irwin said. "Then they went above and beyond. I know many in the audience don't agree with that. But again, I'll go back to our role is to follow the laws of our land and follow our ordinances and that's what we had in place. And that's what we've worked with."

The board also agreed that it was not an easy decision to make, but one of the things that ultimately made their decision was the rights of property owners.

"Owner rights, they own the property, they make the decision of what they want to do," Irwin said. "There was just really no information that was negative about it. And we talked about health and so many different aspects of it. You could drive around the country, you can drive around Davenport to the Quad Cities, right around Clinton County, and you can see solar panels everywhere. If they were detrimental to our health, who would allow them to be on their house?"

The project's development manager with Ranger Power, Sam O'Keefe, said he was glad to finally have the board's approval.

"The county has been extremely diligent, thoughtful, very considerate. They've taken public input over the course of many months, and we've meaningfully changed the project as a result," O'Keefe said. "There's more work to do. There's a lot of coordination that goes into the start of construction, but this is a really big hurdle for us."

One of the concerns brought up over several meetings, as well as during Thursday night's meeting, was Ranger Power's commitment to hiring local labor for the construction. 

It is in the rezoning application that the company will put forth a "good faith effort to hire local," but the county is not legally able to require that they do so. The Board of Supervisors has requested Ranger Power track and report annually how many local employees have been hired.

"Local hiring is a huge benefit," O'Keefe said. "We'd expect to hire almost 300 people to construct the project and a handful to operate it in the long term. If you look at our track record of other projects that we've built, they've used about 80% labor that's sourced locally. And we strive to do the same thing here."

Irwin thinks the solar farm will benefit the county.

"Companies are looking for this type of renewable energy to be able to contract with for their companies," he said. "We just had a company that contacted Clinton County Development about they want one gigabyte of our gigawatt of renewable energy... They want to move their facility to Clinton County or Scott County.

O'Keefe is hopeful construction will start in the fall. Once it begins, it will take around 12 to 18 months.

ORIGINAL: After months of public feedback and hours-long discussions, the Clinton County Board of Supervisors is expected to vote on a proposed solar farm in Grand Mound, Iowa, at a meeting set for 6 p.m. Thursday, May 26.

Chicago-based solar energy development company Ranger Power previously filed a zoning application to build a $250 million Hawkeye Solar Project over 1,500 acres of farmland near Grand Mound. It also includes its smaller Hatching Solar Project.

The land would be leased from 17 landowners for the Hawkeye project and another five for the Hatchling project.

Ranger Power submitted applications for the two projects to the planning and zoning commission in January. In order for the solar farm to be built, the Clinton County Board of Supervisors will have to rezone the land from what's called A-1 (Prime Agriculture) to RE (Renewable Energy Overlay).

The Clinton County Planning and Zoning Commission held a public hearing Feb. 10 and recommended the Board of Supervisors deny the project. The Board of Supervisors get to make the final decision.

In November 2021, Sam O'Keefe, the project development manager, said the solar panels would generate enough energy to power 50,000 homes and businesses in Eastern Iowa. The panels are meant to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by hundreds of thousands of metric tons annually — the equivalent of taking around 100,000 cars off the road.

O'Keefe said the panels will rotate towards the sun and would be no taller than full-grown corn at full height.

The Board of Supervisors held a public hearing of its own March 24. During that meeting, residents spoke for and against the project.

Those against the project are worried it would take too much farmland out of production. Concerns also included damage to property value. Some neighbors just simply don't want to live near the solar panels.

The Clinton County Board of Supervisors met on April 7 to discuss Ranger Power's application at length. The board reviewed the county's ordinances point-by-point with its lawyers and engineers, asking how Ranger Power met each of those points.

"We need to make decisions on, I think, about what we would like to see with this project before we finalize any decisions," board member Daniel Srp said at the meeting on April 7.

One point of discussion, "Does the proposed site support the purpose of the solar project?" was Section 3.6.10 (A). It reads, in part, "Encourage development in line with the master plan for that area: (control urban sprawl, maintain rural character, provide more job opportunities, contribute to small communities)."

"I can't say it's gonna contribute to small communities," Irwin said. "Is it gonna contribute to Clinton County and a couple of school districts? Yes. Is it enough tax revenue to offset some of the negativity? I don't know. I'm still trying to weigh that out."

Over the 40-year lifespan of the project, it would generate $12 million in tax revenue. Half of that would go to the Central Dewitt and Calamus-Wheatland Community school districts. Another 40% would go to Clinton County for roads, infrastructure and public services, and 10% would go to local townships, area colleges, agricultural extension, assessor and the state.

The board met again on April 12 and discussed the project during multiple regular board meetings in May. 

Ranger Power had previously said it would like to have a decision made by June.

The company has been working with landowners on developing this project since 2018.

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