Commercial solar clears the horizon in Tama Co.

Solar energy easements filed with county recorder

A screengrab from the homepage for TED Renewables.

Things appear to be heating up even more in Tama County when it comes to renewable energy following the recent filing of several commercial solar easements.

Roughly a month ago, the possibility of a commercial solar array being constructed in northeastern Tama County came to light following the filing of a solar energy lease and easement agreement with the county recorder on Valentine’s Day.

The agreement is between landowner Terry J. Kucera, who resides in Sergeant Bluff, and the company TED Renewables Land, LLC based in Kansas.

TED Renewables is the abbreviation for Tyr Energy Development Renewables, LLC — a new company that was established in 2022. TED Renewables President and CEO Robert Shanklin of Kansas City is listed as the company’s representative.

The company – which is focused on the development of renewable energy projects in the United States, according to its website – is owned by ITOCHU Corporation, headquartered in Toyko, Japan.

Four separate solar energy easements between Kucera – owner of Liberty Land & Livestock, LLC – and TED Renewables were filed with the county on Feb. 14 encompassing some 960 acres total across Perry and Clark townships east of Traer near Hwy 8.

Since the easements came to light and were brought to the attention of the Tama Co. Board of Supervisors by members of the coalition Tama County Against Turbines (TCAT), the three-member board has been considering changes to the county’s solar zoning ordinance.

The ordinance currently states its purpose to be: “To permit Residential and Non-Residential solar energy systems as an accessory use to permitted, conditional, and special exception uses in any zoning district. … A solar energy system shall be permitted in any zoning district as an accessory use, subject to specific criteria.”

According to the ordinance, an “accessory use” refers to a use accompanying the “primary use or building and located on the same lot therewith.”

The ordinance further states: “A use which dominates the primary use or building in area, extent, or purpose shall not be considered an accessory use.”

Currently, there are no commercial solar arrays in the county.

During the Feb. 21 regular meeting of the board of supervisors, Tama County residents Jeff and Lynn Cizek who live in Clark Township in the 2800 block of Hwy 8 were present to voice concerns about the possibility of Kucera – their absentee landowner neighbor – signing a lease for industrial solar.

Since that Feb. 21 meeting, calls for an “industrial solar ordinance” from members of TCAT have intensified during the public comment portion of the board of supervisors meetings.

District 1 Supervisor Curt Hilmer, who represents Perry and Clark townships, told Tama-Grundy Publishing following the Feb. 21 meeting the supervisors were surprised by the TED Renewables easements.

“The easement was very surprising because there has been nothing across our desks that would have told us that would happen,” Hilmer said in a text message exchange. “I feel confident that we can deal with this situation before It gets out of control.”

In early March, the board of supervisors placed a public notice in area newspapers asking Tama County citizens for “suggested changes” to the county’s solar zoning ordinance — specifically requesting “public comments on changes the public would like to see made to the current Solar Zoning Ordinance.”

The public was invited to submit written comments to the county auditor’s office by mail or email by March 17.

Heather Knebel, a member of TCAT, told Tama-Grundy Publishing the coalition believes the county’s solar zoning ordinance as written applies only to “personal” residential properties and is not for “industrial solar.”

Tama-Grundy Publishing reached out to Tama Co. Zoning Administrator Todd Apfel regarding both the TED Renewables easements and the county’s solar zoning ordinance.

“In regard to commercial solar projects, nothing has come across my desk regarding any such project,” Apfel said in an email dated Feb. 24. “Any commercial solar project would need to be approved by the Tama County Board of Adjustment. Currently to my knowledge, there are not any commercial solar projects.”

In a subsequent email, Apfel said the county’s current ordinance “exceeds the recommended setbacks by the solar industry” which is why Tama Co. currently treats solar installations like building or accessory building structures, he further explained.

Apfel went on to state, “As of last November, only 26% of the counties in Iowa have solar ordinances. Tama County was the [third] county in the state to pass an ordinance and we are constantly in touch with the DNR and Iowa Utilities Board to make sure our code is current with state code.”

As of this past Monday (March 13), Apfel told Tama-Grundy Publishing he had yet to see any permit applications for a commercial solar project come across his desk.

While the board of supervisors continues to field comments each week from members of the public and TCAT asking for a moratorium on commercial/industrial solar projects in the county, on March 9 the board held a special meeting regarding the solar energy ordinance.

Just after the meeting began, the board went into closed session with attorney Carlton Salmons “to discuss matters covered under Attorney/Client Privilege.”

Those present during the meeting in addition to Salmons included all three supervisors – Curt Hilmer, Bill Faircloth, and Dan Anderson, the county auditor, the assistant auditor, Apfel, and HR/Insurance Administrator Tammy Wise.

The meeting lasted just over an hour. No action was taken.

Tama-Grundy Publishing reached out to Supervisor Hilmer again on March 1 asking what the board plans to do once the public comment period regarding the solar zoning ordinance ends on March 17.

“Get something in place so that our good farmland stays in production,” Hilmer responded.