Idle Nuclear Plant in Eastern Iowa Will Become a Solar Farm


Image shows a row of solar panels in a field
Via Flickr

Elizabeth Miglin | April 1, 2021

NextEra Energy Resources of Florida plans to convert the idle Duane Arnold Energy Center in Palo, Linn County into a new solar farm. Previously, the 615-MW nuclear power plant powered 600,000 homes and the new solar farm is expected to surpass that with a capacity of 690-MW.

The solar farm will span 3,500 acres around the energy center and will include 60-megawatts (MW) of AC-coupled batteries for power storage. NextEra plans to invest $700 million over 30 years into the project resulting in $41.6 million in tax revenue and 300 construction jobs. The company hires as many workers from the local area as possible for these projects. 

The Duane Arnold nuclear power plant began operating 45 years ago and was expected to be decommissioned at the end of October 2020, however, by 2019 it was clear the plant no longer fit Iowa’s energy needs. 

NextEra has the largest renewable energy production portfolio in the United States. The company operates solar projects in 27 states and Canada with around 2,600 MW of universal and small-scale solar operating assets. This will be NextEra’s first solar project in Iowa. 

The project is expected to begin construction in winter 2022 and be operational by the end of 2023. 

Iowa City School District Surpasses Emission Goals


Via Wiki Commons

Elizabeth Miglin | March 11, 2021

The Iowa City Community School District’s greenhouse gas emissions could be 48% lower this year than they were in 2018, according to a new report presented to the Iowa City school board by Design Engineers of Cedar Rapids. 

The emission reduction is mostly due to recent utilities improvements. 

This year’s rate is ahead of the school district’s previous goal of achieving 45%reduction by 2030, and the report estimates the district’s total emissions will be reduced by 62% by 2024 according to The Gazette

After many student-led climate protests in 2019, the district adopted a resolution to address climate change that involved establishing targets, providing annual updates, and conducting an inventory of emissions. 

Former Iowa City Climate Strike organizer and current University of Iowa student, Yardley Wayland was both surprised to hear how much the district accomplished and concerned the reduction was a result of limited in-class time due to COVID-19. She hopes during further renovations schools continue “…using sustainable measures and considering sustainable options.” 

The district is currently working with the Design Engineers of Cedar Rapids to create a timeline and budget for reaching net-zero emissions. Focus is on other ways to reduce emissions, such as providing electric buses, and energy-efficient equipment for nutrition service centers. A proposal to build a solar field is also gaining momentum. 

“The way to handle it is [to] work with utility companies and let them invest in the solar panels, and let us provide the land for them to put it on,” said Duane VanHermert, the Iowa City district’s director of facilities.

Solar Installations Could Save Local Governments $375 Million


Via Flickr

Nicole Welle | March 1, 2021

A new report showed that Iowa taxpayers could save $375 million if every county seat, county government and school district installed an average-sized solar energy system.

Auditor Rob Sand reached out to local governments, school districts and the Iowa Solar Energy Trade Association for information on solar installations in the state. Of the 27 projects he randomly chose to analyze, 13 responded to questions. The report revealed that solar panels save local governments and school districts an average of $26,475 each year, and each installation could save $716,437 over its lifetime, according to an Iowa Capital Dispatch article.

Sand came up with the idea for the study while discussing energy savings with family members who own solar panels. He hoped to add solar energy to his Public Innovations and Efficiencies (PIE) program, a project that aims to save taxpayers money through energy conservation. Once the study was complete, Sand noted that school districts could use sales tax receipts for installation and maintenance, reducing pressure on general funds supported by property taxes.

Some local governments and school districts have avoided paying upfront costs for their installations altogether. The city of Letts and Sigourney schools both build solar systems with no upfront payments, and others could do the same by leasing equipment or buying power from other solar energy system owners. The price of solar installations dropped 90% over the past 10 years, and most systems can pay for themselves in five to 15 years, depending on individual circumstances.

Webster County Approves Plan to Build New Solar Field


Pictured are solar panels in a field.
Via Flickr

Elizabeth Miglin | February 25, 2021

Webster County recently approved plans to build a 957-acre solar field. The energy produced by the panels would be able to power 30,000 homes.

Holliday Creek Solar LLC, based in Minneapolis, Minnesota will build the field and eventually transfer the site’s certificate to MidAmerican Energy. Construction is set to begin in the spring and conclude by next winter, according to Webster County planning and zoning administrator Jeff Johnson. The energy will be directed to a nearby substation, then exported to a transmission grid providing energy to other counties.

“We are moving in the right direction,” Johnson said many participating landlords and homeowners in the county are interested in this project.

While Iowa solar panels net capacity has grown from 2-megawatts (MW) in 2012 to as much as 160 MW in 2020, many counties have yet to adopt solar and wind ordinances which provide construction guidelines for these projects.

The Webster County Board of Adjustment approved the project on Jan. 18, followed by the Iowa Utilities Board on Feb. 3.

Johnson Clean Energy District 2020 Virtual Clean Energy Tour


Via Flickr

Thomas Robinson | November 24th, 2020

The Johnson Clean Energy District (JCED) held a virtual tour of solar energy installations across Johnson County this past Friday.

The event was held to celebrate and discuss clean energy transitions occurring within the county.  The tour included the Prairie Hill Cohousing site, the Johnson County solar power installation by the county building, and an installation at Herbet Farms.  Attendees included state legislators and community members who are involved in the district.

Clean energy districts are local groups that strive to speed up transitions to clean energy. These organizations have been styled after the soil and water conservation districts that emerged in the 1930s following the Dust Bowl.  The first district formed in Iowa was the Winneshiek Energy District and the idea has spread to surrounding states like Illinois and Wisconsin.  The JCED works for homeowners and businesses alike, through education on available energy incentives, as well as their STEP program that installs energy efficiency measures directly in homes.

In a recent brief, the International Energy Agency (IEA) has confirmed that solar energy is the cheapest electricity in history.  Their report emphasizes the importance of a clean energy transition, and the potential cost reductions it could bring for consumers around the world and right here in Iowa.

Alliant Energy Announces Plans to Shutter Iowa Coal Plant and Begin Transitioning to Renewable Energy


Via flickr

Nicole Welle | November 2, 2020

Alliant Energy announced the Clean Energy Blueprint for Iowa last week, a plan that will transition one of their coal-burning plants to nuclear energy and shut down the Lansing Generating station altogether.

The Iowa Environmental Council (IEC) and the Environmental Law and Policy Center (ELPC) have publicly announced their support of the plan. By shuttering the Lansing Generating Station by 2022, converting the Burlington plant to nuclear energy and constructing more solar plants and battery storage stations, Alliant Energy will eliminate 487MW of coal-generated power in Iowa by 2026, according to an IEC news release.

Not only will eliminating coal plants reduce pollution, it will also save Alliant customers money. When Alliant Energy requested a 24% rate increase on residential customers in 2019, the ELPC and IEC contracted Uday Varadarajan, an expert data analyst, to examine the economics of Iowa’s coal plants and examine the cost of alternative forms of energy. He found that maintaining the coal plants was more expensive than both clean energy alternatives and buying power from the wholesale market. Retiring the Lansing plant and committing to expanding solar power will help prevent rate increases for customers in the future and help them avoid more that $300 million in costs over the next 35 years, according to an Alliant Energy press release.

Environmental activists hope that positive changes like this will spark further discussion and push companies throughout the Midwest to move away from carbon-based energy. Future efforts to move Iowa towards 100% renewable energy will benefit the environment and help save Iowans money.

Iowa GOP Lawmakers Push to Block Eminent Domain for Wind Farms


Via Flickr

Nicole Welle | August 3, 2020

Three GOP members of a legislative rules review committee are looking to block the Iowa Utilities Board’s move to allow developers to condemn property for wind and solar farms.

Sens. Waylon Brown, Zach Whiting and Mark Costello announced their opposition Friday. They believe that the rules giving the Iowa Utilities Board jurisdiction over the siting of renewable energy facilities and the state the ability to overrule local zoning to allow developers to condemn private property for approved projects are administrative overreach, according to an Iowa Capital Dispatch article.

Some wind companies raised concerns over changing policy that has enabled an economic surge in the past. They also worry that some projects already underway could be stalled. Midamerican Energy, however, testified that the rule should include eminent domain if the state is going to govern siting.

The controversial rule has split environmentalists. Some believe it will help to push renewable energy development forward, but others worry that it could increase development time and cost. If the committee approves a session delay, the Iowa legislature will have the chance to consider the rule before it takes effect.

The Iowa Environmental Council Strives for 100% Renewable Energy in Iowa by 2050


Photo by Bill Devlin, Flickr

Nicole Welle | April 23rd, 2020

The Iowa Environmental Council released Tuesday a report called “Iowa’s Road to 100% Renewable“. The report lays out the steps necessary for Iowa to transition to 100% renewable energy by 2050, a goal that many other states across the U.S. have already set for themselves in recent years.

The IEC concluded that, by 2050, Iowa will need to generate 30,000 to 61,000 MW of wind and 5,000 to 46,000 MW of solar energy to fully transition to renewable sources. The state currently generates 10,000 MW of wind and 110 MW of solar energy.

That sets a wide range, but the IEC analysis incorporated 12 studies on renewable energy growth with a variety of unknown variables. Electrification of fossil fuel sectors, like transportation, may increase exponentially by 2050, resulting in a higher demand for electricity. This, along with the current rate of general increase in electric demand, could alter the amount of renewable energy Iowa requires. The report also considers studies that incorporate the possible use of nuclear power and carbon capture and storage as additional renewable energy options.

Iowa is currently one of the country’s leading producers of wind energy. According to an article posted by T&DWorld, Iowa generated 41.9% of its electricity using wind in 2019. However, continued growth of wind energy necessary for the plan’s success will require increasing support from Iowa’s government and residents.

Some support has waned in recent years. Renewable energy tax credits have reached their capacity, according to The Iowa Utilities Board, and some Iowans have become wary of the number of wind turbines dotting the countryside across the state. Public concern over the land and resources required to expand wind energy production is a hurdle that must be faced before the goals outlined in “Iowa’s Road to 100% Renewable” can be reached.

Solar Jobs Census shows an Increase in American Solar Jobs for 2019


Photo via Flickr

Thomas Robinson | April 21, 2020

Almost 250,000 Americans worked in solar jobs as of 2019, a 2.3% increase since 2018 as reported in the 10th annual National Solar Jobs Census.  The solar industry is seeing an increase in employment after decreasing numbers the past two years.  The results of the census are summarized in an interactive website which provides data for each state down to the county scale.

Iowa employed over 800 people with solar jobs in 2019, ranking 39th in the country.  While not a leader in solar energy, Iowa is the state with the second highest wind energy capacity, with wind energy representing more than a third of the state’s electricity production as of 2016.  Renewable energy represents almost two-fifths of Iowa’s electricity generation, and the proportion is only expected to continue to increase.

Employment in solar nationally has increased by over 167% within the past decade alongside a 70% drop in cost within the same time frame.  To ensure the future of solar energy, an MIT study suggests that government policies are required to incentivize it’s use and to continue the growth caused by the continuing drop in prices.

Iowa lawmakers, advocates reach compromise on controversial solar bill


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The Solar Act would promote the viability of private solar panel ownership in Iowa (via flickr). 

Julia Poska | March 10, 2020

Iowa legislators have reached a compromise on last year’s controversial “Sunshine Tax” bill. The Iowa Capital Dispatch reported Friday that both legislative chambers have unanimously approved bill versions of the“Solar Act,” which are awaiting Gov. Reynolds’ approval.

According to the dispatch, the act would allow owners of home, business or farm solar arrays to continue selling excess energy to utility companies at the retail rate. Last spring, a controversial bill proposed an extra $300 annual fee for solar customers who sell excess energy, meant to cover the cost of using the electric grid. Critics said the fee would make it much harder for private owners to pay off their investment into solar, essentially killing the largely private solar industry in Iowa.

The new version also orders an independent cost-benefit analysis of solar power in Iowa, meant to make sure all parties pay their fair share. Following the study, the Iowa Utilities Board would make a recommendation for reasonable billing methods. Existing solar owners would be immune to recomended changes in billing methods.