New tool emerges in helping Iowa communities map out wind, solar

Environment

By Mike Moen, Public News Service - Iowa

Iowa is seen as a leader in renewable energy for sources like wind power, but tension is building in how to site such projects.

The rapid growth of wind and solar has led to policy debates at the state level on whether to add regulations, as some landowners and farm groups fight certain plans.

A new guide aims to give local officials a better grasp of proposals coming their way.

Lindsay Mouw, policy associate at the Center for Rural Affairs, said the group's guide is an alternative to state-level decision-making, informing local leaders about project elements they might not be familiar with, as they balance the needs of surrounding areas they know a lot about.

"Local decision-makers know the community and geography best," Mouw pointed out. "And are best equipped to make those decisions and listen to the concerns of their community members."

She argued providing more clarity is crucial as utilities, municipalities and other entities lay out clean-energy goals and look to build more grid capacity for renewables. With more policy debates expected at the State Capitol, the Center hopes its voluntary guide gets a strong look and is widely shared.

Local governments in Iowa have long had the final say on these projects. Mouw noted a similar effort in Indiana allows counties to be designated as primary development spots, if they so choose. She added adopting a "siting matrix" in Iowa could help keep local control, and open the door to broader engagement with the public.

"Community members are well aware of what a developer is required to meet or consider," Mouw explained. "And they will know that their local decision-makers are equipped with all of the information needed to make those decisions responsibly."

She emphasized the siting tool, already used for livestock projects in Iowa and Nebraska, can also help dispel misinformation about renewable energy development. Over the years, local opponents have raised concerns ranging from the loss of farmland to noise generated by wind turbines.

While it waits for the state to consider sharing the guide with counties across Iowa, the Center said local governments are free to use it as a template.

Click here to listen to the interview.

Feature photo by Kylie Kai