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Planned solar farm moves forward with sustainability plans

BY DANIEL SEIDL | NOVEMBER 19, 2013 5:00 AM

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Harnessing environmental forces through the use of wind and solar farms isn’t a new idea, but one Iowa organization has larger plans than ever before.

Farmers Electric Co-op, a Frytown-based electric cooperative, has purchased the land that used be the site of the Farmers Henhouse, and the organization plans to build a solar farm on the property.

Warren McKenna, the Electric Co-op general manager, said this would be the largest solar array in Iowa if it is built. The farm would provide 500 kilowatts of energy, comparable with the power required by nearly 60 homes, McKenna said. This energy would mostly be used for the Farmers Henhouse facilities and other buildings nearby.

The Johnson County Board of Supervisors considered a rezoning application for the property was last week. The supervisors approved rezoning the property from being categorized as a heavy industrial zone to an agricultural zone on a 5-0 vote.

This plan shows real steps are being taken towards making Iowa more sustainable, Supervisor Rod Sullivan said.

“We’ve had a goal of making the county more sustainable for years, and we have done some good things,” he said. “What makes me excited about this is it’s in the private sector.”

Though many parts of Iowa have wind farms, McKenna said, in this area of the state, wind energy wouldn’t be as effective.

“The wind resources in this part of Iowa aren’t that great,” he said. “Solar has just got a better return for us down here.”

Supervisor Chairwoman Janelle Rettig said the prospect of a solar farm is very exciting, and she hopes these types of projects will continue.

“Farmers Electric Coop is doing such neat things,” Rettig said at the Nov. 14 meeting. “I’m very happy they’re here. I hope this is the first of a number of these we’ll see.”

The Electric Co-op board will vote on the proposal tonight, and McKenna said he is hopeful the members will approve it. Once completed, the farm would provide approximately 15 percent of the power needed by the Electric Co-op. This will create significantly more income for the organization, McKenna said.

“It keeps our money local,” he said. “We’re not sending our money up to the larger companies. [It] saves everybody money.”

Sullivan said projects such as this provide more than just monetary benefit. The environmental impact is also important, and Sullivan said larger-scale change needs to take place.

“Our current system is insane,” Sullivan said. “We are warming our planet and using up all of Earth’s resources. We’re just in a critical, critical time.”

Johnson County Planning and Zoning assistant planner RJ Moore said this would not only be the largest solar farm but the only one of its kind. He also agreed with Sullivan, noting that the effect of farms such as this can lower dependence on fossil fuels.

“We need to reduce our dependence on oil as an energy source and supplement that,” he said. “Anything we can do that will help us get away from that, [and] be something that’s cleaner [will be] a benefit to us.”

If the plan is approved, the farm could be completed by May 2014, McKenna said.


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