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Solar farm nearer to fruition

BY ABIGAIL MEIER | FEBRUARY 14, 2014 5:00 AM

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A new farm in the Johnson County area will trade corn for sunshine.

The Johnson County Board of Supervisors completed the last requirements at its Thursday meeting for a group of individuals to create one of Iowa’s largest solar farms.

“Warren McKenna is the solar guru in the state of Iowa,” Supervisor Chairwoman Janelle Rettig said. “This is a very cool project, and I hope it is mimicked throughout the state of Iowa. I hope to see more of it, and we are happy he is here in Johnson County.”

The land for the future solar farm was purchased by the Farmers Electric Co-op — a Frytown cooperative — and will plant the solar farm on the Farmers Henhouse site.

Warren McKenna, the co-op general manager, said when finished, the project will be the largest solar array in Iowa.

“No one has ever put a solar farm of this magnitude anywhere in Iowa,” he said. “The project has garnered quite a bit of attention from many environmental groups, and we are hoping to [make] Johnson County to be a solar leader in Iowa.”

McKenna said it would provide 750 kilowatts of energy, or the amount of energy used to power 100 to 200 residences, depending on the house size. The energy will most likely be used for the Farmers Henhouse facilities and other buildings nearby.

“I’m all behind this,” said Scott Ritter, a member of the co-op. “I’m proud of these guys for having the foresight to pull through with it. A lot of people will benefit from this solar farm.”

McKenna said the process of creating the project has been a 1 ½-year process, and the team has experienced only a few delays. He said there are many aspects to take into consideration when looking for a location for a solar farm. Throughout this process, he said, the team needed to find an area with five to six acres that face the south, have fairly flat ground, and lack tress.

In November 2013, the supervisors approved rezoning for the property to be considered as an industrial zone as opposed to an agricultural zone on a 5-0 vote. The farm will provide approximately 15 percent of the power needed by the Electric Co-op while simultaneously creating a significant increase in income.

The president of Farmers Electric Co-op, Dean Miller, said this is a major step for the group to create green energy. He said this will take Iowa one step closer towards being less dependent on fossil fuels.

McKenna said the co-op predicts to have energy produced in the community by the end of May.

“I think it’s a good thing, and a lot of green energy will be used,” Miller said. “To be one of the smallest co-ops in the state of Iowa and produce one of Iowa’s largest solar farms, we’re excited to see the final stages happening.”


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