New study looks at developing solar energy across Iowa City

The new study attempts to improve upon solar energy development plans in Iowa City.


Kate Heston

Cheryl Miller speaks about the Solar Energy Project during a City Council Meeting Tuesday night. The Iowa City City Council has live streamed the meetings from their Facebook due to COVID-19.

Brian Grace, News Reporter

The Johnson Clean Energy District is exploring opportunities to develop solar energy infrastructure throughout Iowa City’s industrial, commercial, and residential areas in a new study following a failed proposal to implement utility-scale solar panels at Waterworks Prairie Park in April.

The objectives laid out in the new study include developing detailed technical and geographical information that will aid in the city and county’s future production of solar energy, and creating dialogue between local government, businesses, and residents regarding future solar energy projects.

Johnson Clean Energy District Secretary Cheryl Miller said during public comment at the Oct. 20 city council meeting that this new project could provide a foundation for the city’s future regarding solar energy as well as allow the city to implement initial solar energy projects in the short term.

“We’d like to, at the end of the study, be able to come up with at least one three-megawatt or larger project that could be undertaken in the very near term so that we don’t get too far behind in that schedule that is laid out in the accelerated agenda,” Miller said.

The agenda Miller referenced during public comment is the city’s climate action and adaptation plan, which was approved by city council in 2018 with the goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent by the year 2050.

The resolution was updated in 2019, making the city’s new goal to reach zero carbon emissions by 2050.

The Johnson Clean Energy District hopes to partner with the city of Iowa City, the University of Iowa, Johnson County, MidAmerican Energy, and the Iowa City Community School District, among others, to advance the study.

City Council voted against utility-scale solar energy development at Waterworks Prairie Park in April of 2020 due to public concern that a solar farm in the park would compromise the park ecology, as previously reported by The Daily Iowan.

City Councilor John Thomas said the Waterworks Prairie Park initiative had a limited public process and that there wasn’t much of an opportunity to look at the plan before it was presented to city council.

“The plan was taking this area and Waterworks and sort of building out the whole area, which is, you know, an existing prairie,” Thomas said. “And so, the solar panels would have gone only ten feet, something like that, away from the trails. Some people were perfectly okay with that, but there were people who were not OK with it.

Thomas said the new study would give the city a better idea of where it’s most appropriate and makes the most sense to develop solar energy going forward.

RELATED:Iowa City City Council spikes solar energy project in Waterworks Prairie Park

City Councilor Janice Weiner said during an Oct 20 city council work session that she thinks the Johnson Clean Energy District would do well making community participation a pillar of the study.

“I think it’s also an organization that can help build consensus in the community and create room for ideas…I personally think it’s a really excellent idea” Weiner said.

Miller said the Johnson Clean Energy District is working with the City Manager’s office regarding their next steps and that she looked forward to coming back and speaking to council in the future.

“We wanted it to be something that could be accomplished relatively quickly and relatively inexpensively,” Miller said. “We wanted some strong technical information, but also a very strong public outreach component so what happened at Waterworks Park last spring would not happen again, and we could really get back on track of developing solar projects here in town.”