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Johnson County Solar Triangle moving forward with grid application
Proposed 150-megawatt project south of Iowa City got private funding after Johnson County Board of Supervisors denied $1.7 million request
IOWA CITY — Developers of a 150-megawatt solar project intended for south of Iowa City are moving forward after a private funder stepped in at the last minute to pay for the application phase of the project.
Now the Midcontinent Independent System Operator (MISO), which manages the power grid across 15 states and a Canadian province, has two years to decide whether the Johnson County Solar Triangle Project works with all the other energy projects in the area.
“This is all very dependent on permission to connect the project with the grid,” said Sean Kennedy, partner at Megawatt Photovoltaic Development Inc., which develops utility-scale solar projects. Other partners are Karen Sherman and Cordell Braverman. All three are Iowa City natives.
The Solar Triangle project, proposed for 1,200 acres south of Iowa City, would generate the equivalent amount of energy to power Iowa City, the University of Iowa and half the south part of Coralville, Kennedy said.
Developers sought $4.5 million to fund initial phases of the project, including design work, the MISO application and readying of the site for the installation. They made several funding requests to the Johnson County Board of Supervisors, the most recent in early July for $1.72 million, but the board decided the private project was not the place to use public money.
“We support green initiatives and infrastructure in Johnson County, but as stewards of taxpayer dollars, the board cannot be the sole funding source of projects such as this,” Board Chair Pat Heiden wrote to Kennedy on July 12.
A previous request to fund the project through the Johnson County Industrial Revenue Bond was declined because legal counsel told the board state law didn’t allow public bonding for this type of project, said Josh Busard, county planning, development and sustainability director.
Other solar projects
Several utility-scale solar projects are in the works in Eastern Iowa. An 127.5-megawatt installation near Wapello was completed earlier this year, according to the Burlington Hawk Eye. That project was developed by Clenera, out of Boise, Idaho, and then sold to the Central Iowa Power Cooperative (CIPCO).
Several other large solar projects have been proposed, including a 690-megawatt project near the site of the decommissioned Duane Arnold Energy Center in Palo. Site owner NextEra Energy, based in Florida, has said the project would create more than $40 million in tax revenue and result in $50 million in payments to the landowners where it’s built.
At a public meeting in May, residents expressed concern about the environmental impact of the panels and the possibility the project would hinder the city’s growth.
Commitment to solar energy
Tom Banta, director of strategic growth for the Iowa City Area Development Group, said he sees a lot of upsides to the Johnson County Solar Triangle project.
“’Solar you can touch’ is how Megawatt is framing it,” Banta said, adding that the site could include prairie plants and a bike or walking trail. The project is slated for land between Iowa City and Hills that would be visible from Highway 218 so motorists could see the project and know Johnson County is committed to renewable energy.
“It doesn’t get us to 100 percent renewable, but it gets us closer that way and becomes a marketing tool for businesses that are looking for that,” he said.
If the project gets built, Megawatt would eventually like it to be purchased by one of the major utilities, including MidAmerican Energy, Alliant Energy or an electric cooperative, Kennedy said.
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