Ecopolis Iowa City event focuses on solar energy


Warren McKenna - general manager for Farmers Electric Cooperative - presented during the Ecopolis Iowa City forum on January 21. (Photo by Jeff Biggers)
Warren McKenna – general manager for Farmers Electric Cooperative – presented during the Ecopolis Iowa City forum on January 21. (Photo by Jeff Biggers)

Nick Fetty | January 22, 2015

Nearly 100 local politicians, students, and area residents attended Wednesday night’s Ecolopis Iowa City forum which focused on solar energy.

Iowa City attorney Rockne Cole was the first to speak at event explaining that the group formed about 60 days ago in a coffee shop and has gained quite a following in that time. He described Ecopolis Iowa City as a group of “doers” dedicated to renewable energy and sustainable development in Iowa City.

Warren McKenna – general manager of the Kalona-based Farmers Electric Cooperative – was the first of four presenters to take the podium Wednesday night. McKenna – who was named CEO of Year by the Solar Electric Power Association last year – said that his company has installed $3.6 million in solar systems since 2008, which includes solar arrays at Iowa Mennonite School and Washington Township Elementary. He has traveled from New York to Las Vegas and even as far as Germany to promote solar energy.

Troy Miller –  Director of Power Purchase Agreements for North Liberty-based Moxie Solar – was the next to present.

“Your local government is doing a great job of stepping up and taking the bull by the horns with solar,” he said.

Miller was referring to the Johnson County government which has partnered with Moxie to install solar panels on the roof of the county’s new secondary roads building project. This project makes Johnson County the first county in the state to utilize a Power Purchase Agreement for a solar project. For this project, the county put zero dollars down and agreed to pay a higher rate for electricity over the next ten years. After the first ten years the county will own the system outright and is expected to save $255,000 over a 25 year period.

“This is just one building,” Miller said. “The county has more than one building. That’s the good news.”

Troy Miller - Director of Power Purchase Agreements for Moxie Solar - discussed a recent collaboration between Moxie and the Iowa City Community School District during the Ecopolis Iowa City forum on January 21. (Photo by Jeff Biggers)
Troy Miller – Director of Power Purchase Agreements for Moxie Solar – discussed a recent collaboration between Moxie and the Iowa City Community School District during the Ecopolis Iowa City forum on January 21. (Photo by Jeff Biggers)

Miller also discussed a recent partnership between Moxie Solar and the Iowa City Community School District. He analyzed more than 700 electricity bills at more than 26 school locations to help the district determine its options for installing solar panels at the schools. In addition to helping the schools, Miller said he plans to launch a six-part “Common Cents Solar” webinar series which will individually focus on schools, cities, counties, churches, agriculture, and commercial entities. Miller also encouraged local non-profits to contact him (troy@moxiesolar.com) and send 12 months worth of electricity bills which he will use to conduct a free solar analysis.

Iowa City realtor and developer Kevin Hanick was the last one to present on Wednesday night. Hanick has been practicing real estate in Iowa City for over 30 years but admitted that he knew very little about solar energy until recently.

“I’m a mutt in this whole game but I’m learning,” he said.

Iowa City developer  (Photo by Jeff Biggers)
Iowa City developer Kevin Hanick discussed plans for installing rooftop solar panels for an upcoming project during the Ecopolis Iowa City forum on January 21. (Photo by Jeff Biggers)

Hanick discussed a project he is currently working on which will be constructed near the intersection of South Riverside Drive and West Benton Street in Iowa City. The project will recieve tax incriment financing (TIF) which requires that it is constructed with photovoltaic solar panels on the rooftop. The 28,000 square-foot rooftop on the building is expected to fit approximately 700 solar panels.

“It struck me early on we should be constructing an energy efficient project,” he said, adding that he supports the idea of requiring developers to install solar panels on all future TIF-funded projects.

At the end of the event, Hanick was awarded the Tesla Award for Renewable Energy Innovation by the Ecopolis Forum to recognize his efforts.

On Saturday January 24 at noon, Ecopolis Iowa City will host a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the Ecopolis Center at 1000 South Dubuque Street. The group will host its next monthly forum at the Iowa City Public Library on Saturday February 21 at 10 a.m. where they will focus specifically on Iowa City’s proposed Riverfront Crossings District.

For more information about Wednesday night’s event, check out this piece by Jeff Biggers for the Huffington Post Green blog.

Eastern Iowa cooperative named national leader in solar energy


A map of solar power concentration across the United States. (National Renewable Energy Laboratory)
A map of solar power concentration across the United States. (National Renewable Energy Laboratory)

Nick Fetty | November 6, 2014

Iowa has been known as a national leader in wind energy and the Hawkeye State may now be on its way to being a leader in solar energy as well.

A recent report by the Solar Electric Power Association (SEPA) touts the Farmers Electric Cooperative in Kalona as one of the nation’s leaders in solar energy. The 650-member utility provider “has become a model for simple, hands-on business programs that have made 20 percent of its members solar owners.”  The report states that co-op members who install solar panels on their homes and farms are eligible for a “a feed-in-tariff for self-generation or [they can] opt for an up-front rebate based on the size of their systems.”

Farmers Electric has also set a goal for reducing its use of fossil fuels 25 percent by 2025. The Green Power Program allows members to pay an extra $3 on monthly utility bills and the money is used to purchase biodiesel to fuel backup generators. Additionally, the company has provided solar energy panels for area schools including the Iowa Mennonite School as well as Washington Township Elementary School.

The cooperative opened the state’s largest solar farm over the summer which includes approximately 2,900 solar grids spread across roughly 4.5 acres. This event garnered attention from local, state, and even national media outlets.

Last month, Farmers Electric Cooperative general manager Warren McKenna was named Utility CEO of the Year by SEPA.

Iowa’s largest solar farm opens in Kalona


Nick Fetty | July 31, 2014

The largest solar array in Iowa will host its grand opening today in rural Kalona, approximately 25 miles southwest of Iowa City.

The array will feature 2,900 solar grids spread across roughly 4.5 acres. This is almost three times the size of the state’s current largest solar array located on the north edge of the Luther College campus in Decorah. The Kalona farm is expected to generate about 1.1 million kilowatt hours per year which is enough energy to power roughly 120 homes.

The project is a collaboration between Farmers Electric Cooperative and Eagle Point Solar. Farmers Electric Cooperative was formed in 1916 and is based out of Frytown just north of Kalona. The cooperative provides electricity for about 650 members in rural eastern Iowa and aims to generate 15% of its energy using renewable sources by 2025.

Eagle Point Solar is a Dubuque-based solar panel company with more than a dozen projects in Dubuque, Peosta and New Vienna in Iowa as well as Galena and East Dubuque in Illinois. Earlier this month, the Iowa Supreme Court ruled that Eagle Point Solar was not violating state law by selling electricity to the city of Dubuque generated by solar panels on the roofs of city buildings. The ruling was viewed as a major win for solar energy advocates.

In an editorial published in the Des Moines Register, CNA Corp.’s Military Advisory Board member Ronald Keys said renewable energy sources such as the Kalona solar farm “is good not just for Iowa’s economy and environment, but it also helps set the tone for how to secure our nation’s energy, economic and security future.”