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Proposed solar panel project sparks concerns in Clinton County

Published: Nov. 26, 2021 at 10:01 PM CST
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GRAND MOUND, IA (KWQC) - A solar energy company is eyeing rural Clinton County in a partnership with private landowners. Ranger Power is working on the Hawkeye Solar Project, a solar panel project for landowners who would voluntarily sign leases with the power company.

About 1,500 acres outside of Grand Mound would be filled with solar energy panels. Ranger Power says the project would bring over twelve million dollars in new tax revenue to the county over the life of the project.

The Hawkeye Solar Project is expected to create more than 200 jobs. According to the company, the project would produce enough energy to power more than 50,000 homes in Iowa.

So far, Clinton County officials say about twenty landowners have signed leases with the company. Other landowners are opposed to the project and say the panels cause safety and property value concerns.

Ranger Power says existing high-voltage infrastructure, including substations and transmission lines make rural Grand Mound ideal for the project.

“We wouldn’t need to build any more transmission lines to get the power from point A to point B,” said Sam O’Keefe, Project Developer with Ranger Power.

According to the plan, about half of the generated tax revenue would go back to local school districts. Forty percent of tax revenue would go to Clinton County. Participating property owners say the revenue would benefit everyone.

Dennis Campbell, a sixth-generation farmer outside Grand Mound, is leasing forty acres of his farmland toward the project.

“Even the people who have some opposition to this and their kids and grandkids, they are going to reap the benefits of this tax space flow back into their cities and their school. I think it would be short-sided on our part as communities and citizens here to ignore the benefits that are being offered,” said Campbell.

A few miles down the road from Campbell, other Clinton County residents are skeptical. Ginger Pingel has lived in the area for more than ten years. Pingel says the current proposal would surround all four sides of her home with solar panels and worries it could hurt her property value in the future.

“I don’t know anyone who’s been looking for a home and shouted ecstatically that they wanted to live in a solar farm,” Pingel said.

She cites concerns about safety, maintenance, and how the environment could impact the panels.

“We just had a derecho last year. We get hail and wind storms. We get six-foot-tall snow drifts that you have to dig out of. So, I think the chance and the propensity for it to create some significant impacts is a lot more than it seems. My kids have to live here they have to play in this area. As a mom it is all concerning,” said Pingel.

Ranger Power says the panels are safe. According to the Hawkeye Solar project’s website, the panels, ”will not release any toxic or hazardous substances into the environment, and no such substances are used during operation of the project. They also do not deplete natural resources or cause environmental damage through resource extraction and transportation. In addition, solar panels do not use significant amounts of water during operation, keeping this water available for farming and other activities.”

The Clinton County Board of Supervisors said they had multiple residents speak out against the project at meetings. Board member Jim Irwin estimates seventy-five percent or more of people who attended the public meetings at the start of discussions around the project were opposed.

“We are dealing with people’s livelihoods. They have bought this acreage, they have put a lot of their blood, sweat, and tears into their acreage putting up a house and buildings and creating their little paradise and now they are going to look across their fenceline and see solar panels. It’s a very heated topic,” Irwin said.

An application for the project has not been submitted yet by the power company. Once submitted, the county board of supervisors will evaluate and vote on the project. A date for the vote has not yet been set.

Ranger Power says construction would start in about a year if approved. Construction is estimated to take between twelve to eighteen months.

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