Iowa City City Council defers conversation on solar-energy project to next meeting

In alignment with MidAmerican Energy’s goal of using 100 percent renewable energy sources by 2021 and Iowa City’s Climate Action Plan, a new solar project located in a prairie park has been proposed for Iowa City.


City Council convenes virtually on Tuesday, March 24, 2020. Iowa City residents could tune in on several online platforms and write in for public comment.

Annie Fitzpatrick and Rachel Schilke

Iowa City and MidAmerican Energy plan to expand the use of renewable energy in Iowa City through a joint solar-energy project at the Iowa City Water Plant. MidAmerican’s request to lease the land went before the Iowa City City Council on March 24 and the council voted to continue the discussion April 7.

The council, which met via video conference for the first time, voted 7-0 in favor of continuing conversation on the solar-energy project due to public concern over how this project will affect the environment and the aesthetic of the prairie park.

Iowa City Assistant City Manager Ashley Monroe said the city had developed ideas for beneficial partners to expand renewable energy in the past, so working with MidAmerican Energy aligned with its existing Iowa City Climate Action and Adaptation Plan goals.

“The project, as proposed, demonstrates a commitment moving forward to reducing our carbon emissions … and moving forward with positive partnership,” Monroe said. “So I think people will be supportive.”

The city advocates toward moving away from fossil-fuel energy, she said, which aligns with MidAmerican Energy’s goal of using 100 percent renewable resources.

MidAmerican Energy Director of Renewable Energy Development Adam Jablonski said this project adds to the company’s goal of being 100 percent renewable by 2021.While the company has committed itself to wind energy projects since 2004, this is its first solar project.

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“This Iowa City project will be our first project and allow us to learn more about renewable energy and provide that to our customers,” Jablonksi said.

The partnership between MidAmerican Energy and the city has worked well so far, because of the pair’s similar goals and commitment to the environment, he said.

“The city has similar environmental respect goals as MidAmerican,” he said. “So far it has been a great partnership.”

Discussions for the relatively large solar project between the city and MidAmerican Energy began several months ago, he said. Currently, the project calls for around 10,000 solar panels across 18 acres of land, Jablonksi said.

Designs are currently being finalized and construction will begin in the spring if the Iowa City City Council approves of the lease request at the end of the month, he said. The solar project will be placed, serviced, and operational by the end of 2020, depending on the council’s ruling.

“By the time it is constructed, we will be able to supply enough energy to power 580 average Iowa households,” Jablonksi said.

Monroe said that, to address concerns for the panels’ installation area, the city is planning educational and environmental components to accompany the project. She said that there will be educational signs so that people visiting the area can learn about the benefits of solar energy.

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To address concerns of a loss of natural prairie around the panels, Monroe said, the city will implement maintenance efforts to care for the natural areas. This includes adding pollinating plants and plantings native to the area around the installations, she said.

Multiple community members came forward at Tuesday’s City Council meeting, to say there was not enough information accessible to the public about altering the prairie park. One community member said that this project is adding to an existing issue of urbanization in rural areas.

Iowa City Sustainability Coordinator Brenda Nations said this project aligns with the city’s goals to diversify its portfolio and continue working towards their Climate Action Plan. She said that the majority of the city’s emissions come from electricity, so the solar panels will provide for alternate sources of energy.

“As they move towards alternative things, like wind and solar, our emissions go down,” she said. “We count their emissions factored in our greenhouse gas inventory … and it helps us with our emissions goals.”

The partnership is one step toward the overall Climate Action Plan and efforts of both MidAmerican Energy and Iowa City to become more sustainable, Monroe said. This idea, which has been in development over some time, is all part of the effort to expand renewable energy in the city, she said.

“We’re supportive of the partnership that is being established … it is this multi-tiered service citing the renewable energy generation inside Iowa City,” Monroe said.