116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
It is hard to drive around Linn or Johnson counties without seeing a solar array in a farm field, on a home, or powering a small business. Eastern Iowa has long led the state in solar energy innovation, with Linn and Johnson Counties topping the list of solar hot spots. These counties, along with Washington, have the most solar installations with more than 400 each. After a decade of proven solar success, it is surprising that some in these communities are now publicly questioning the benefits and efficacy of solar technology.
Farmers, rural businesses and homeowners are leading the use of solar in many of these areas, and solar has proved to be an effective tool for cutting energy costs, creating jobs in the Cedar Rapids/Iowa City corridor and reducing the state’s carbon footprint.
The Nature Conservancy (TNC) in Iowa has been proud to play a role in Iowa’s solar success through the “Grow Solar Linn & Johnson Counties” group purchasing program that we have helped coordinate for several years. In Linn and Johnson counties alone, 413 households went solar through the “Grow Solar” program, and it helped spur 2.8 MW of solar, $6.7 million in local investment and offset an estimated 5,168,213 lbs. of carbon dioxide in a single year.
As an organization committed to preserving Iowa’s natural resources and iconic landscapes, TNC works to leverage solar as a tool to achieve a robust, reliable, and affordable net-zero emissions economy. Over the last four years, over 90 percent of all solar projects through the “Grow Solar” group purchasing programs have been installed on rooftops resulting in no land-use change.
Additionally, by installing native flowers and perennial grasses beneath ground mounted solar arrays they become pollinator-friendly places and support critical habitat. Not only will this contribute to biodiversity, but it can also prevent erosion and improve water quality. In fact, larger ground mounted solar projects being considered in Linn County independently of the “Grow Solar” programs could preserve agricultural land by letting it rest and regenerate with perennial grasses under the solar arrays for future use. The way a solar panel works is completely safe and does not create any hazardous or toxic fumes. Quite simply, the only byproduct of solar is clean, affordable electricity.
Lastly, solar energy offers us a solution to address urgent environmental challenges that can power our homes and our economy. Statewide, solar has created approximately 800 jobs in the industry. Local evidence of this job creation is everywhere in the corridor, with companies like SiteGen Solar and Moxie Solar consistently listed among the corridor’s fastest growing businesses. Furthermore, the solar industry supports a robust supply chain with companies like Van Meter playing a critical role in solar projects throughout Iowa.
For anyone interested in learning more about solar and how it works, I invite you to check out our virtual resource packet that includes recorded webinars on the Grow Solar program, presentation slides and financing options.
It’s important to know the facts about solar energy, and they are quite simple. Solar has operated successfully in Linn and Johnson counties for many years, and we should embrace opportunities to create a better future for both people and nature. We must keep pushing forward and not turn back.
Partrick Snell is a climate and external affairs associate at The Nature Conservancy in Iowa.