Two solar energy projects have been proposed this month in Iowa. One project will take place in Linn County, the other in Dubuque County.
Coggon Solar LLC filed an application last week for permission to build a 640-acre facility in Linn County. The planned acreage would meet the electricity needs of more than 16,000 households. The land is currently utilized for farming. The LLC is a partnership between the Clenera and Central Iowa Power Cooperative. If the application is approved, the county would receive nearly $4.8 million in property taxes. The Cedar Rapids Gazette reported that long-term leases have already been signed by Coggon Solar and property owners on the land where the project plans to be.
Linn County isn’t the only area in Iowa preparing for a new solar energy project. Dubuque’s city council approved funding for a pilot program to help install solar panels on a few residents’ homes. The program will select 10 residents to participate this year, and each will receive $3,285. The program aims to decrease the burden of energy costs on low- to moderate-income households in the city.
Both programs come months after solar tax credits were not renewed by the Iowa Legislature. Hundreds of Iowans lost an average of $3,200 after the credits failed to pass, according to Iowa Capital Dispatch.
Homeowners in Linn County were encouraged to combine their buying power to significantly reduce the cost of installing solar panels this summer through the Solarize Cedar Rapids and Linn County initiative.
Organized by the City of Cedar Rapids, Linn County, The Nature Conservancy, Indian Creek Nature Center, Iowa 350 and the Midwest Renewable Energy Association (MREA), participants were offered a significant per Watt discount each time the volume of buyers surpassed program tiers. The base price for participants was $2.45/W. All participants received a $0.05/W discount each time the group buy reached one of four milestones: 50 kilowatts (kW), 150 kW, 250 kW, and 350 kW.
The program offered a total of 23 educational sessions, or Solar Power Hours, for interested parties to learn more about the evolving solar industry and this initiative.
Amy Drahos is a Senior Air Quality Scientist at Linn County Public Health. She said in a recent press release, “The community support for the Solarize program has been incredible. Nearly 500 people attended a Solar Power Hour or requested more information about the program, with 105 households deciding to install solar. This program was a success thanks to the enthusiastic response from Linn County citizens and the dedicated community partners who recognize the benefits of solar energy.”
In the end, 105 households signed up to install solar panel systems, and the initiative nearly double its highest goal of 350 kW, installing a total of 611 kW. The large group buy means that participants will receive a rebate of $200 per kilowatt installed, or an average of $1,164 per household.
Cedar Rapids Sustainability Coordinator, Eric Holthaus, commented on the city’s role in the program, “The City served as an educational partner in this program. Solar technology ten years ago is not the same as solar today. We enjoyed helping residents become informed on this energy option, and it looks like many were excited to take a step toward cleaner energy and lower utility bills.”
The Solarize Cedar Rapids and Linn County initiative also provides a substantial environmental payoff. It is estimated that program participants will generate a combined total of nearly 700,000 kWh of clean solar energy annually. MREA reports that 927,000 pounds of carbon dioxide and 14 million gallons of water will be offset by this initiative during the first year alone.
The MREA has implemented this program in several other parts of the Midwest including Milwaukee, Wisconsin and Urbana-Champaign and Bloomington-Normal, Illinois. However, “The Solarize Cedar Rapids and Linn County program contributed the highest kW contracted to date,” according to MREA Executive Director, Nick Hylla. He added, “There is obviously a tremendous amount of interest in solar energy in eastern Iowa.”
The program wrapped up on September 30th. All solar installations will be completed by December 31, 2017.
The Linn County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously on Monday to remain committed to the Paris Climate Accord, despite President Trump’s withdrawal at the federal level.
Linn County joins a group of more than 1,200 mayors, governors, college and university leaders, businesses, and investors that make up the We Are Still In coalition. An open letter from the coalition, which makes up more than $6 trillion of the U.S. economy, reads:
“In the absence of leadership from Washington, states, cities, colleges and universities, businesses and investors, representing a sizeable percentage of the U.S. economy will pursue ambitious climate goals, working together to take forceful action and to ensure that the U.S. remains a global leader in reducing emissions.”
Iowa City, Johnson County, Des Moines and Fairfield are also members of the coalition.
Following the board’s decision, businesses, local organizations and local leaders spoke during a news conference. Linn County Supervisor Stacey Walker said, “Leadership on the tough issues can originate at the local level. One community can make a difference, this is our hope here today,” according to a report from The Gazette.
Local leaders emphasized that to keep the U.S.’s pledge to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 28 percent before 2025, coalition members must walk-the-talk. Walker continued, “In absence of leadership in the federal government, the job is up to us locally.”
Cedar Rapids Mayor Ron Corbett said that this year’s September floods in Cedar Rapids may have influenced the voters’ decision. He said, “We’re coming off the September flooding event that raised to the top of people’s minds how important watershed management is. Many people I visited with about this subject matter looked at this as water quality and watershed management.” Linn County Conservation Deputy Director Dennis Goemaat agreed. He said, “People value their recreation and water quality in natural areas.”
Goemaat added that the board wants to begin working with Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation, Iowa Department of Natural Resources and other invested groups as soon as possible in order to work on funding the projects. It will take time to raise the $40 million, representatives say, but Mayor Corbett is hopeful that the success of the ballot measure will encourage legislators to allocate money to the Iowa DNR’s Natural Resources and Outdoor Recreation Trust Fund of 2010, which funds Iowa DNR programs.
Hillary Hughes is vice-president of the Linn County Conservation Board. She said, “This is an affirmation vote. I think this should demonstrate to lawmakers statewide that conservation is important to citizens of Iowa.”
Eric Holthaus, a University of Iowa graduate, was hired on to provide focus and strategy to existing city-wide sustainability initiatives and to spearhead new efforts. Since beginning his work with the city in November, he helped implement a 90 kilowatt solar panel array on the roof of the Northwest Cedar Rapids Transit Garage and establish a policy that prohibits city vehicles from idling for longer than one minute.
Upon his hire, Holthaus created a 21-point sustainability assessment of the city. In addition to other findings, he notes that Cedar Rapids has clean drinking water, but difficulty with “food deserts,” or areas of town where populations have restricted access to food.
At the end of June, Holthaus and his team released a document titled, “State of Affairs: Cedar Rapids’ Pursuit of Sustainability.” The document lays a foundational definition for sustainability and why it matters to people in Cedar Rapids.
To Holthaus, sustainability reaches beyond environmental issues,
HOLTHAUS: “And so sustainability to me is be able to have a high quality of life, and it also means to me to connect the social and economic aspects. A lot of people don’t meet their daily needs, you know, if there’s an opportunity for us to eat better, to have cleaner water, to have more access to those resources, how can prioritize people that have the least and build stronger communities when we do that intentionally?”
Cedar Rapids is only the third city in the Hawkeye state to create a sustainability coordinator position, following Iowa City and Dubuque.
To learn more about Eric’s position, or to read more about Cedar Rapids’ sustainability goals, visit Iowa-Environmental-Focus dot org.
For the UI Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research, I’m Betsy Stone.
The Iowa City Science Boosters Club taught children about climate change through a hands-on experiment at the Linn County Fair on Thursday June 23.
Hundreds of children stopped by the ICSBC booth in the Lynn Dunn Memorial Building at the Linn County Fairgrounds to learn about the effects that ocean acidification can have on marine life. Participants blew bubbles into cups of water and then measured the water’s pH level. They found the carbon from their breath lowered the pH level similar to how with climate change excess carbon in the atmosphere contributes to more acidity in oceans. The higher acidity level in oceans can damage the shells of mussels, clams, and other shellfish which can make them more susceptible to predators and create a whole slew of ecological issues.
“We’re here for youth day and this is related to our outreach work with schools. The National Center for Science Education is really interested in changing community attitudes towards science education and supporting science teachers,” said Emily Schoerning, Director of Research at the National Center for Science Education. “So if we can give these families a positive, upbeat, hands-on experience with climate change that will make them less concerned with talking about climate change and less concerned about their kids learning about climate change in schools.”
Iowa’s recent rainfall probably wasn’t sufficient to reverse the drought damage to the state’s corn crop, but farmers say that Saturday’s storms may have spelled hope for soybean crops.
John Airy Jr., a farmer from Linn County said his soybeans received about an inch and a half of rain on Saturday, and the effect was almost immediate and may have increased his harvest yield by as much as 10 percent.
“The next day, you could see the plants that were stressed, the ones on the hilltops, they just looked better. You could see it (rain) perked them up a little bit,” said Airy.
For more information, read the full article at the Gazette.