Indian Creek Nature Center reaches energy milestone

Solar panels generate electricity used by the Indian Creek Nature Center in southeast Cedar Rapids, Iowa, on Friday, Apr
Solar panels generate electricity used by the Indian Creek Nature Center in southeast Cedar Rapids, Iowa, on Friday, April 13, 2018. The Amazing Space facility is Iowa’s only nonprofit nature center that has achieved Net Zero status by producing 100% of its electricity on-site with solar panels. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)

CEDAR RAPIDS — Over the course of a year, the Indian Creek Nature Center’s Amazing Space facility generated more energy than it used.

From March 1, 2017 to February 28 of this year, solar panels on the 5300 Otis Road SE building generated 135.4 megawatt hours of electricity. However, the 12,000-square-foot space only used 111.4 MWh of power. The roughly 24 MWh of excess power, which remained on the local grid, is enough to power the average Iowa home for more than two years.

On Friday, officials with the center and Alliant Energy, who have partnered on the project, held a formal announcement that the Amazing Space had achieved Net Zero Energy certification, which is administered by the International Living Future Institute and part of the Living Building Challenge.

John Myers, executive director at Indian Creek, said the center is only building in Linn County, and first nonprofit statewide, to achieve such an accolade.

But while the certification is a point of pride, Myers said it’s just the beginning as the building is striving to become the first nature center in the world to achieve full Living Building Challenge certification — and inspire others along the way.

“Iowa and Indian Creek Nature Center can be leaders. We have to realize and continue to show that leadership, especially throughout the Midwest, on some of these principles like renewable energy and sustainable building ... need to occur and while that may not mean that every day it increases the attendance at the nature center, it does continue to make the nature center a leader,” Myers said.

In the coming months, Myers said the building should receive similar recognition for being a net zero water building, which means no water from the building — including rainwater and septic — goes into ditches or rivers.


The final component of full Living Building Challenge certification will be for the building itself and operations — including sustainable materials and meeting ongoing air quality standards on site. If full certification is achieved, Amazing Space would become the first nature center on the planet to receive such distinction, Myers added.

The center, which opened in 2016, boasts permeable patio pavers, locally sourced limestone and reclaimed wood from a Marion barn, insulation from sand and recycled glass and solar panels and geothermal heating.

Myers said the green elements in the center are more than just a means of achieving accolades — they provide educational tools for visitors and potential inspiration for others interested in pursuing sustainable projects.

What’s more, Doug Kopp, president of Alliant Energy’s Iowa company, said the center represents the utility’s first foray into a significant solar project and includes 420 solar panels, including rooftop and ground mounted panels, as well as two different movable panels that can track the sun.

Those panels also provide Alliant with an educational opportunity, Kopp added.

“We wanted to do things and set things up in such a way that we can gain knowledge for future activities,” Kopp said. “This is one of those projects that, when you look back at it you say, ‘Wow, that was a good one.’”

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