Government

Iowa City Council rejects solar project in city park

IOWA CITY — Iowa City residents and their elected officials have made clear they don’t want city-owned prairie used for a solar energy project.

The Iowa City Council on Tuesday unanimously voted down a resolution that would have allowed MidAmerican Energy to lease nearly 19 acres of Waterworks Prairie Park for construction of a large-scale solar energy system.

Council members — who have been holding their meetings online — said they’d heard from citizens asking them to reject the lease.

“Please, please do not destroy this beautiful resource,” Nancy McMullen wrote in an email to the council. “We walk, run, walk our dog thru this area almost daily and so enjoy the solitude and natural beauty. There must certainly be a more sociable location for the solar panels.”

Under the proposed agreement, the city would have leased 18.89 acres of the park to MidAmerican for 30 years with the option to extend the lease for a decade. The city would have received an annual payment starting at $13,440 that would have increased by 3 percent annually.

City Manager Geoff Fruin said the land at the 200-acre Waterworks Prairie Park — located just north of Interstate 80 and Dubuque Street and home to ponds, wetlands, prairie, trails and wildlife — is not suitable for commercial development. No other amenities are on the land, and trails would not have been affected by the solar project, Fruin said.

Council member Laura Bergus said she voted against the lease due to the “overwhelming public input and opposition to it.”

“It was really surprising to me, the amount of opposition to it,” Bergus said.

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Bergus said she believed the city forecast the proposed installation when it passed an ordinance allowing for a utility-scale installation.

She also said one of her take-aways during her campaign for city council last year was that the climate goals set in 2019 could mean making sacrifices in some areas.

Ultimately, though, Bergus said she wanted her vote to represent the public.

If approved, MidAmerican would have installed about 10,000 solar panels in the park. MidAmerican also would have been responsible for replacing the existing prairie with low-growth pollinators and perennials.

Fruin said the city has no alternative plans for a partnership with MidAmerican Energy right now.

“It is unlikely that such a partnership will be able to move forward in the next couple of years,” he said. “But we are committed to trying to pursue a meaningful partnership in the years ahead.”

Comments: (319) 339-3155; lee.hermiston@thegazette.com

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