Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Four master’s students recently presented the results of their capstone project on wind farm suitability in Linn County, Iowa to the Linn County Board of Supervisors, receiving news coverage on the front page of the Cedar Rapids Gazette. The project includes three distinct spatial analyses that determine where utility-scale wind farms can be sited based on legal constraints, where they’re likely to be sited based on geographic and economic suitability, and where they should be sited based on land use compatibility. The results of the students’ analysis deem about 50% of the county as highly suitable and 40% as medium suitability. Through a public survey the students found many residents (72%) are in support of wind energy but it may be a challenge to implement as only 44% are receptive to having a wind turbine on their land.

Apart from the spatial analysis and the survey, the project also includes an expansive review of relevant research and best practices regarding wind farm siting, a Conditional Use Permit Evaluation Guide to aid wind development application staff reviews, and a GIS toolkit that automates all spatial analyses done over the course of the project, allowing Linn County staff to replicate the spatial analyses with updated inputs in the future. The completed product is meant to provide Linn County staff with the necessary resources for reviewing future utility-scale wind farm applications to ensure any future developments are as harmonious with the surrounding communities as possible.

The impressive report contains further considerations such as environmental and land use constraints, as well as community impacts of wind farm placement and construction, including the  effects on aerial-spraying for agricultural farming and transportation. Additionally, the Linn County 2013 Comprehensive Plan was consulted to observe the current planning efforts and policies in the county.

The team of urban planning graduate students who completed the year-long study are those in the photo: Michael Delp, Luke Foelsch, Gia DeBartolo and  Zhi Chen (not pictured). The project was overseen by faculty members Haifeng Qian and Scott Spak with the work supported by Travis Kraus of the University of Iowa’s Iowa Initiative for Sustainability. The group worked in conjunction with Les Beck, Director of Linn County’s Planning and Development department, for input and feedback.