Johnson County embarking on Solarize program

Solarize Johnson County will be the second of its kind in Iowa

(File photo) Dan Tyne, a technician with Nelson Electric of Cedar Rapids, installs solar panels on the roof of Indian Creek Nature Center in Cedar Rapids on Wednesday, August 31, 2016. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)
(File photo) Dan Tyne, a technician with Nelson Electric of Cedar Rapids, installs solar panels on the roof of Indian Creek Nature Center in Cedar Rapids on Wednesday, August 31, 2016. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)

IOWA CITY — On the heels of Iowa’s first Solarize program in Linn County last year, officials in Johnson County plan to embark on their own program — which incentivizes private solar development through volume purchasing prices.

Becky Soglin, Johnson County sustainability coordinator, said Wednesday. Solarize Johnson County will help residents get involved in the county’s long-standing focus on sustainability and green power.

“The county is committed to using renewable energy, particularly solar, to power its buildings. The Board of Supervisors, in wanting us to move ahead with this, wanted to make sure the public has similar opportunities,” Soglin said.

Similarly to the Solarize Cedar Rapids and Linn County program, Johnson County’s program will be administered by the Midwest Renewable Energy Association.

Officials involved in the program say it offers bulk solar prices for individual installations. Essentially, the more people participate, the cheaper the installations become.

Soglin said it will be a program of partnerships, with the county’s Board of Supervisors and planning, development and sustainability, public health and conservation departments all on board.

In addition, the cities of Coralville, Iowa City, North Liberty, Shueyville, Solon and West Branch have agreed to partner on the project, which largely involves helping with promotional work and outreach.

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Soglin said she hopes to kick off a schedule of around 20 educational meetings, dubbed Solar Power Hours, across the county in April as part of Earth Week.

“Regardless of where somebody lives, they can attend a Solar Power Hour and have an opportunity to learn about the program,” Soglin said.

Midwest Renewable Energy Association eventually will send out a request for proposals to seek interested companies to install the solar arrays. The Linn County and Cedar Rapids program contracted with North Liberty’s Moxie Solar.

Johnson County Supervisor Mike Carberry, who spent a decade in the renewable energy industry before joined the board, said he was encouraged by Linn County’s program, which sparked the idea of creating a similar effort in Johnson County.

“We’re hoping for as much success as Linn County had last year,” Carberry said.

Peter Murphy, solar program manager at Midwest Renewable Energy Association, said in a Wednesday email he was encouraged by how quickly the program seems to be picking up in Iowa.

“We were very pleased with the community’s enthusiasm in Linn County and are eager to take advantage of the opportunity to educate even more homeowners about solar in Johnson County over the next several months,” Murphy said.

Murphy added that the Cedar Rapids and Linn County program, which added about 607 kilowatts of solar energy — nearly double the original goal of 350 kilowatts — on 105 properties, was one of the association’s most successful Solarize programs yet.

Linn County officials estimated that Solarize customers will save more than $70,000 on utility costs in their first year. About 1 million pounds of CO2 and 280,000 gallons of water annually will be offset by the new solar production, rather than fossil fuel generated electricity, officials have said.

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Eric Holthaus, Cedar Rapids sustainability coordinator, said, with Linn County’s program such a success, he’s encouraged that other communities might be considering similar efforts.

“I’m super excited to see it spread,” he said.

Back in Johnson County, Supervisor Janelle Rettig said in an email she looks forward to adding to the county’s solar portfolio. The county already has solar panels on or near the county’s secondary roads building, fleet maintenance facility, administration building and health and human services building and plans are in place to add solar to the new ambulance services building.

“I am very excited to have a Solarize campaign in our county. Johnson County is about to build our fifth solar array so we know first hand how solar can save on energy bills and help combat climate change,” Rettig said.

l Comments: (319) 339-3175; mitchell.schmidt@thegazette.com

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