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.
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.
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.
The new year will be a big one for solar power in Iowa. The Central Iowa Power Cooperative (CIPCO) recently announced plans to start construction on a 100-megawatt solar farm on 800 acres in Louisa County at the end of 2019. This would be Iowa’s largest solar project to date, and will likely be completed at the end of 2020.
An Idaho company called Clēnera (pronounced clean-era) will develop and operate the farm, to be named Wapello Solar. According to conversions from Clēnera’s website, clean energy generated by Wapello Solar could offset carbon emissions equivalent to driving 8.8 billion miles or 8.5 million barrels of oil over 20 years.
CIPCO will purchase 100 percent of energy produced and share it among cooperative members, including the Eastern Iowa Light & Power Cooperative, which serves the construction area. Some of this energy will offset the loss of the the Duane Arnold Energy Center nuclear plant in Palo, Iowa, of which CIPCO owned a 20 percent share and derived 20 percent of its generating capacity.
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.
It’s hard to believe that it’s been just over two years since I first entered the Iowa Advanced Technology Laboratories – which I had previous referred to as the shiny metal building next to the Iowa Memorial Union – to interview for a graduate assistantship with the University of Iowa’s Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research.
Despite having studied at the UI for my undergrad and the fact that I have had a casual interest in the environment for as long as I can remember, I had never heard of CGRER prior to my interview. I interviewed with CGRER’s Outreach and Community Education Director Joe Bolkcom – whose name I was quite familiar with from constantly reading about his efforts as a state senator – who made it clear from the start that his work with CGRER is separate from his work in the Iowa legislature. Though I had no formal experience covering scientific issues, I was offered the position because of the journalistic skills I had developed as an undergrad and during my time as a reporter with the Iowa City Press-Citizen. My colleague, KC McGinnis, was hired at the same time I was and similar to me he had little formal experience covering environmental or scientific issues. Joe felt that KC and I would compliment each other well as he was more of the multimedia expert while my specialty was writing.
During my two year stint with CGRER I not only learned a tremendous amount about environmental policy in the Hawkeye State specifically and environmental research more broadly but I also informally served as a teacher educating my friends, family, and others about these issues. Whenever possible I avoided the partisan divisiveness often associated with environmental issues and instead focused on the positives. As a lifelong Iowan I’m proud to tell people about how this upper-Midwestern state with just over three million inhabitants is a national leader in wind energy. Or how there is tremendous potential for solar energy in the Hawkeye State despite cold and snowy winters that occupy about a quarter of the year. I’ve even had intelligent and civil conversations with farmers about the benefits of cover crops, no-till, and other conservation practices, even though I know we wouldn’t see eye-to-eye on many political issues.
My time at CGRER was not only a learning experience for me in terms of the environment but I was also able to further develop my journalistic skills, especially in terms of multimedia. I felt that I learned more about video production working with KC during two short years than I did during any of my formal education.
My two years with CGRER has paid off as next week I will begin my new position as a Communications Specialist for the Department of Mechanical Engineering at Iowa State University. (Don’t worry I’ll always be a Hawkeye at heart!) I am confident in the abilities of KC and I’s replacements – a graduate student from the College of Education and an incoming freshman – and am eager to see the direction they take things. There are already talks of revising our On The Radio segments to follow more of a longer-form podcast format, which as an avid podcast listener myself, I think has potential to be awesome.
Perhaps the biggest thing I’ve taken away from my time at CGRER is that many of these environmental issues should not be political. I’m not a scientist myself but I understand that a certain amount of skepticism is important with scientific research but there’s a difference between healthy skepticism and outright denying what is perceived as fact by the majority of the scientific community. I understand that politicians and lobbyists often have business interests which will influence their opinions. While I would still disagree with them on ideological grounds, it would be a step in the right direction if these politicians would come out and say “I’m not going to deny the science but I disagree with this policy because I think it’s detrimental to a particular business or economic interest.”
I’m not one to buy into American exceptionalism but I think higher education is one thing we truly do right in this country. (With that said, I think there are always ways higher education can be improved.) During my time at the University of Iowa, I have met hundreds of students from dozens of different countries, all of whom came to the UI to get a world class education. Not only should we as country be quick to welcome these international students to our colleges and universities but we should do more to support the scientific research taking place as opposed to denying it, especially when that opposition is often based in political ideology as opposed to scientific fact.
Iowa congressman Dave Loebsack encouraged Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton to make renewable energy a major part of her platform during an event earlier this week, as reported by the Cedar Rapids Gazette.
Much of Loebsack’s emphasis was on energy issues important to Iowans such as biofuels, wind, and solar.
“Energy policy is exceedingly important in Iowa. The renewable fuel standard has been important in Iowa, not just for ethanol, not just for corn ethanol, but for cellulosic ethanol, for biofuels of other sorts as well. These are also good for the environment. They can bring together people as far as I’m concerned,” Loebsack said at the forum.
Loebsack – currently the lone Democrat in Iowa’s congressional delegation – represents Iowa’s 2nd District, the southeast corner of the state that includes Iowa City. The Sioux City native and former Cornell College political science professor has held his seat since 2006.
Full video of the panel discussion is available on politico.com.
Later this month Team PrISUm will compete in the Amesican Solar Challenge road race which will begin at Cuyahoga Valley National Park in Brecksville, Ohio and end at Wind Cave National Park in Hot Springs, South Dakota. The race is in collaboration with the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service and will include stops at national battlefields, monuments and historical parks. The route does not go through Iowa and instead cuts south across Missouri.
Prior to the American Solar Challenge (July 30-August 6), Team PrISUm will compete in a qualifying race at the Pittsburgh International Race Complex July 26-28. The team hopes to use these races to prepare them for the 2017 World Solar Challenge, a 1,900-mile trek across the Australian outback scheduled for next October.
Team PrISUm claimed its first overall victory last year during the Formula Sun Grand Prix in Austin, Texas. The team and its car, Phaëton, bested the second place team by more than 31 laps and also recording the fastest lap of any of its competitors by about 14 seconds. The car, Phaëton, is named for the son of Greek sun god, Helios.
The team’s newest model, Phaëton 2, improved upon several aspects from the previous design including a new motor, new batteries, and live telemetry which allows the public to use the internet to track location, speed, and other metrics measured by the car.
Dwight was born in Iowa City and attended City High where he excelled at track and football. Despite his relatively small 5-foot 8-inch frame, Dwight found a niche as a wide receiver and kick returner for the Iowa Hawkeyes before a decade-long stint in the National Football League.
Dwight attributed his interest in solar energy to his travels to Africa and the Middle East after his football career.
The recent Sports Illustrated article discusses the ways in which solar has changed since Dwight got into the game, pointing out that solar modules have decreased from $4 per watt in 2008 to about 70 cents per watt today.
The piece also touches on the breadth of Dwight’s knowledge when discussing solar.
It also helps that Dwight can speak flawlessly and passionately about all sides of the industry. As we chat, he riffs on about electricity, amps, volts, wire sizes, how to pinpoint a connection to a grid, how to break down a single-line diagram, and how energy is currently bought, sold and created.
Throughout our conversation, the solar advocacy never slows. Just like his skills as a returner, you think he’s done and then he goes in a new direction, passionately and convincingly adding yet another reason to go solar. “It’s like, guys, you’re living in the 1800s, man. In Iowa we’re 50% coal. We dig from Wyoming, my money is going to Wyoming. With renewables, it’s local job creation, local investment.”
A small liberal arts college in Northeast Iowa is considering ways to make solar energy more economically feasible to power its nearly 200 acre campus.
Officials at Luther College are weighing their options for ways to better utilize the storage capabilities of solar energy generated by the campus’s various solar arrays. A report by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory found that Luther College could save about “$25,000 in energy costs for each of the next 25 years if it installs a 1.5 MW solar array and a 393 kW battery.” The analysis assumes that a third party investor will cover the cost of additional solar systems and would accept a five percent return on investment. Kate Anderson, an engineer at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, estimated that if the measures in the analysis are implemented it would save the Decorah-based college one to two percent annually on electricity costs.
Luther College currently has several on-campus solar arrays with the potential of producing more than 1,000 kW of electricity. Officials with the college hope to generate 70 percent of the campus’s power from renewables by 2020 and to become carbon neutral by 2030. Last month, the college dedicated three new solar arrays capable of producing 820kW of electricity, making Luther the host of the most solar photovoltaic (PV) in the state.
Luther College ranks third among liberal arts colleges nationwide for solar PV generating capacity, behind Oberlin in Ohio and Bowdoin in Maine.