Guest Columnists

Utility-scale solar benefits Iowa

The energy landscape is continually evolving across the country and the world at an unprecedented rate. No longer is our energy generation dependent on one or two fuel sources; instead, the possibilities continue to expand.

Central Iowa Power Cooperative (CIPCO) has been at the forefront of evolving energy for more than a decade. As we entered 2016, our generation capacity was 60 percent emission and carbon-free and consisted of wind, hydro, landfill gas, nuclear, natural gas and coal. This “all of the above” approach ensures CIPCO’s balanced generation provides safe, reliable and cost-effective energy for our members. To further enhance our portfolio, CIPCO added solar in 2016. Our 5.5 MW utility-scale system is currently the largest in the state of Iowa.

As a member-owned cooperative, CIPCO takes pride in providing options that meet the needs and goals of our members. As solar energy becomes more cost-effective, our members chose to enter the arena. Solar increases our emission and carbon-free portfolio and further diversifies our generation assets which enhances CIPCO’s ability to maintain stable rates in a market where energy costs can vary greatly. Choosing to use utility-scale solar versus community solar was a well-researched endeavor to develop the best option for delivering energy across our 58 county territory. As a cooperative, it is our job, even our mandate, to serve all members equally. We recognize installing a residential solar system can be costly; often out of reach for a large portion of the public. Utility-scale solar benefits everyone, regardless of income level, not just those who can purchase a residential system or afford to buy into a community solar farm.

While renewable energy sources are a critical component in providing environmentally friendly energy, they cannot yet sustain the entire electric load of our members. We live in a 24/7 world, and reliable electricity is an important component. Our members expect the lights to come on whenever the switch is flipped. If the wind isn’t blowing or the sun isn’t shining, solar and wind are unable to support the electrical needs of our members. Until the capacity exists to store large scale amounts of electricity in a way that does not increase costs to our members, we are dependent on multiple forms of fuel sources to continue providing safe, reliable and cost-effective electricity.

That’s where the ‘all of the above’ strategy comes into play. Without the use of fuel sources that can sustain generation at any point in the day, we risk an electrical system incapable of meeting today’s demands. Nuclear, coal and natural gas are an important part of the equation.

CIPCO maintains our commitment to a diverse generation portfolio that ensures all members can rest assured the lights will come on when the switch is flipped. To that end, we look forward to investigating emerging technologies that allow the cooperative to provide safe, reliable, environmentally-friendly and cost-effective electricity for our members across the state.

CIPCO is Iowa’s largest cooperative energy provider serving 13 electric cooperatives and associations spanning 58 of Iowa’s 99 counties. CIPCO is a generation and transmission cooperative supplying power to its member distribution cooperatives covering a territory which stretches 300 miles diagonally across the state from the Mississippi River on the east to Shenandoah in the southwest. CIPCO supplies all power requirements for its member cooperatives, and as their power provider, CIPCO is dedicated to delivering quality, safe and reliable service at the lowest possible cost.

• Paul Heineman is board president of the Central Iowa Power Cooperative.

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