North Liberty and Johnson County plan to add solar to local energy grid

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Johnson County could have a few more solar panels by the end of the year.

North Liberty is seeking proposals for solar arrays at the city’s Streets and Parks Campus, located on the 400 block of Front Street, and on top of the North Liberty Fire Station at 25 W. Cherry St.

Ryan Heiar, North Liberty city administrator, said the two sites selected were chosen as the best places for the city’s first venture into solar power.

“We’re looking at those two because we think, at least right now, those two areas will be the low hanging fruit in terms of providing solar energy. We think we can get the most bang for our buck,” he said.

Meanwhile, Johnson County, which added solar to the Secondary Roads facility last fall, is looking to add solar arrays to the roof of the Health and Human Services Building and adjacent to the Administration Building. Both buildings are located on S Dubuque Street.

Josh Busard, director of Johnson County planning and development, said the county has received project proposals from four different solar companies.

“Right now we are currently deciding what vendor to pursue,” he said. “The board, they want to get going as soon as possible. We just want to make a good decision.”

Busard said the hope is to install solar arrays that would supply 10 percent of the Health and Human Services Building’s energy usage and 25 percent of the power used by the Administration Building.

Last October, North Liberty’s Moxie Solar completed Johnson County’s 86 kilowatt-hour array on the Secondary Roads Facility at 4810 Melrose Ave.

That project came together through the county’s use of a Power Purchase Agreement. A PPA essentially means the solar company constructs and owns the array, while the municipality buys the electricity and takes advantage of tax credits otherwise unavailable to local government bodies.

In North Liberty, it’s likely the city will join into a PPA with the selected company or companies tasked with building the solar arrays.

With a PPA, Heiar said the city could save “hundreds of thousands” in energy costs over the next 10 to 20 years.

For now, the city is seeking requests for proposals from solar companies interested in taking on the projects.

Two RFPs — one for the fire station and another for the city campus — were filed earlier this week.

Proposals must be received no later than 10 a.m. April 29.

Heiar said the RFPs have few guidelines for prospective developers, with the hopes of receiving the best possible solar options for both sites.

“There’s some variance in there so people can be flexible,” Heiar said. “We’re not experts in solar so we’re hoping the experts in solar will provide us proposals that make sense. That’s why we’ve given them a wide range to work with.”

RFPs for both sites indicate that the proposed solar system should generate at least 60 percent of the electricity needed to power the fire station and campus. Solar systems that generate 80 percent or more of the respective project’s energy usage will receive added favor from the city.

The RFPs also seek solar systems that include real-time monitoring of both systems to provide residents with the ability to view energy output online.

Heiar said more specifics will be known after solar companies are vetted, but said the hope is to get North Liberty into the solar field by the end of 2016.

“I’d like to have it up and running by the end of this year,” he said.

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