Government

Solar project could come to Iowa City park near Interstate 80

City council to consider 30-year lease with MidAmerican

IOWA CITY — The 200-acre Waterworks Prairie Park is home to hiking trails, ponds, wetlands, prairie and wildlife — and possibly 10,000 solar panels later this year.

The solar panels may be added under a partnership between the city of Iowa City and MidAmerican Energy.

The Iowa City Council will hold a public hearing March 24 on a proposed lease of nearly 19 acres to MidAmerican Energy. The utility is proposing to build a large scale solar energy system on the land.

“This is an exciting partnership that we’ve forged with MidAmerican Energy,” Iowa City Manager Geoff Fruin said. “It’s something we’ve been talking about for several months now.”

Under the proposed agreement, the city would lease 18.89 acres of land at Waterworks Prairie Park to MidAmerican Energy for 30 years. The agreement could later be extended by an additional decade. The city would receive an annual payment starting at $13,440 that would increase by 3 percent annually.

Fruin said the land in question cannot be developed and is planted with prairie.

“I think what distinguishes this space ... it’s park space that’s not accessed,” he said. “There are no ball fields on this ground. There are no amenities that attract people in. That park is really there for trail users, and that trail use will not be hampered by this project.”

As part of the agreement, MidAmerican would replace the existing prairie with low-growth pollinators and perennials, Fruin said. It also would pay the city a tree mitigation fee of $25,000 to $30,000 to offset the removal of a group of trees.

ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW ADVERTISEMENT

The park — located off Dubuque Street near the city’s water treatment plant and Interstate 80 — would showcase the solar project, Fruin said.

“It has great visibility,” he said. “It can help promote renewable energy and this partnership to the community.”

Adam Jablonski, director of renewable energy development for MidAmerican, said the energy company has been focused on renewable energy since 2004. However, those efforts have all entailed wind energy. This would be MidAmerican’s first solar project.

“We’re fairly new in regard to solar energy,” Jablonski said. “The wind resource in Iowa is much better than the solar resource. But, solar is good, too ... It just makes sense, and this is something we can do to partner with the city to bring more renewable energy to our customers.”

Jablonski said the installation would involve about 10,000 solar panels arranged in rows running north and south. The panels will track the sun from east to west in order to maximize the energy generated.

The system is anticipated to generate three megawatts of energy that will be tied into the electric grid.

“This solar project alone will power the equivalent of about 580 average Iowa residences,” Jablonski said.

Fruin said the city leases land near the airport to a farmer, but that’s the closest arrangement it has to a lease like the one proposed with MidAmerican.

ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW ADVERTISEMENT

When the city rolled out its Climate Action Plan to reduce carbon emissions in November, it identified public-private partnerships as one of the keys to the plan’s success.

While this sort of partnership wouldn’t be feasible on all city-owned land, Fruin said he hopes it can lead to future collaboration between the city and private entities.

“We hope this is, in some respect, a conversation starter,” he said. “We’re proud of what is going to be completed with this project.”

If the lease is approved, construction on the solar project could begin this spring and be completed by the end of the year, Jablonski said.

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

Give us feedback

We value your trust and work hard to provide fair, accurate coverage. If you have found an error or omission in our reporting, tell us here.

Or if you have a story idea we should look into? Tell us here.

Give us feedback

We value your trust and work hard to provide fair, accurate coverage. If you have found an error or omission in our reporting, tell us here.

Or if you have a story idea we should look into? Tell us here.