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Electric cooperatives serving Iowans showcase new projects

Editor’s Note: This is the first of a two-part series on how electric cooperatives serving Iowa member-consumers are integrating new energy sources into their energy portfolios. Part two will also feature cooperatives serving the northeastern and southeastern parts of the state.


Solar shines as a cost-effective resource

As Central Iowa Power Cooperative (CIPCO) works to close the gap left by the early closure of Duane Arnold Energy Center, it is focused on finding additional power purchase agreements with developers of wind and solar resources to fortify its power supply portfolio. CIPCO is a generation and transmission electric cooperative and, through its 13 members, serves over 300,000 Iowans in 58 Iowa counties.

“Energy from solar and wind resources are, relatively speaking, low-cost alternatives to other means of generation,” says Bill Cherrier, CIPCO executive vice president and CEO. “We give great thought to the value these assets bring to the power supply portfolio, analyzing the costs and the potential benefits and drawbacks of every decision.

“The solar option has been outstanding for us and really over the last eight years, it’s become much more competitive. Compared to nuclear and coal plants, it is very economical and at times more competitive than those. The issue is you don’t always have it when you need it,” Cherrier continues. “Therefore, coal and natural gas play a very important part in our portfolio and will for some time to come.”

CIPCO’s involvement in solar projects has been in the spotlight in recent months.

Wapello Solar comes online

Earlier this year, Wapello Solar, LLC came online. CIPCO has a power purchase agreement (PPA) to purchase 100% of the power from the 100-MWAC Wapello Solar for 25 years. Clēnera LLC partnered with Renewable Energy Systems (RES) to construct Wapello Solar in six months, creating approximately 250 jobs at peak construction. Despite beginning construction during the COVID-19 pandemic, Wapello Solar progressed with little to no delays and entered commercial operation in early 2021.

Clēnera acquires, develops, builds and manages utility-scale solar projects and energy storage facilities throughout the U.S.

Located on nearly 800 acres, Wapello Solar features 318,000 bi-facial solar panels on single-axis tracker tables. When siting the projects, it’s important to locate and construct at the lowest cost possible, while having necessary access to the transmission system. To check all these boxes, the projects are typically located on land that is rural, and in these instances, landowners are often pleased with the projects because developers work with landowners, and the opportunity creates diversity for their income.

On the heels of the completion of the Wapello Solar in southeast Iowa, CIPCO and Clēnera Renewable Energy announced the execution of a PPA for Coggon Solar, LLC, a 100- MWAC solar project in eastern Iowa.

Coggon Solar will bring significant economic benefits to the local area. According to Clēnera, the project will contribute several million dollars in property tax revenue to Linn County over the life of the generating facility. Clēnera also estimates that the project will create approximately 350 jobs during peak construction, many of which will be from local labor.

Coggon Solar is anticipated to begin commercial operations in 2022.

“Our electric cooperative members count on reliability more than anything. It’s imperative to their lives and livelihood. Our job is to deliver the best balance in a diverse energy portfolio,” Cherrier adds.

Solar array occupies the former site of coal pile for power plant

In 2020, Corn Belt Power Cooperative brought Wisdom Station’s new 150-kilowatt solar facility online. The project features two different photovoltaic panel arrangements, a fixed-tilt array and an array of single-axis tracking panels. The panels take up space once occupied by the plant’s coal pile. Wisdom Station converted to an all-natural gas burning facility in 2014.

Corn Belt Power supplies electricity to nine member cooperatives and one municipal cooperative that serve farms, rural residences, small towns, businesses and industries in 41 counties in northern Iowa. There are 600 total panels at Corn Belt Power’s Wisdom Station with 75 kilowatts of generation on each of the fixed-tilt and single-axis tracking arrays.

A fixed-tilt array is an array in which the panels never move and are pointed in one direction at all times. The single-axis tracking panels will move with the sun to maximize energy generation.

“We hope to learn more about the true costs and benefits of the two technologies – fixed-tilt versus single-axis tracking,” says Jacob Olberding, vice president, power supply, Corn Belt Power. “We tried to set up as much of an “apples to apples” comparison as we could. The two arrays are located right next to each other. Each array has the same size model, quantity of solar panels and inverters. We are monitoring and documenting the performance and costs associated with the two arrays so that our members can make informed decisions when considering the two technologies.”

Iowa Choice Renewables, a company established and run by a group of electric cooperatives in rural Iowa, installed the system. The array interconnects to Iowa Lakes Electric Cooperative’s distribution system at Wisdom Station.


Battery-powered substations? An innovation recharge!

Basin Electric Power Cooperative, which provides power to electric co-ops across the Midwest, introduced a member-owned Trial Battery Rate into its policy in 2019. The rate allocates up to 150kW per Class C member to employ between a substation and the end user.

Northwest Iowa Power Cooperative (NIPCO), a Basin member, provides wholesale electric generation and transmission services to seven member cooperatives serving nearly 34,000 member-consumers in 10 western Iowa counties.

NIPCO engineers developed a plan to take advantage of this storage allocation to provide the best “bang for its buck” across its entire NIPCO membership. In late 2020, NIPCO directors approved an innovative concept to pool member cooperatives’ individual allocations, allowing NIPCO to integrate a 975-kilowatt Tesla® Mega Pack battery storage unit to the feeder of a single distribution substation within the NIPCO system. The plan enables NIPCO to utilize battery storage as a part of its overall load management strategy.

“The goal of installing a grid-scale battery will be for peak-shaving, thus reducing the peak power demand charge that NIPCO pays to purchase power during periods of high consumption. These demand charges are passed along to our member co-ops,” explains Chris Larson, NIPCO’s system protection engineer II. “The battery will be charged during off-peak hours and then discharged during peak hours, alongside NIPCO’s existing load management system. Operating the battery storage system in this manner reduces the peak power demand charges that ultimately get passed along to member-consumers.”

The stored power from the battery will replace almost 1 megawatt of power (enough to power approximately 100 homes) being demanded of the substation for up to six hours during the scheduled load control cycle.

The Tesla battery pack will be connected to the Lawton Substation located west of Lawton, Iowa. While the distribution substation serves Woodbury County Rural Electric Cooperative members, the savings will be socialized across the entire NIPCO membership and, ultimately, benefit member-consumers at the end of the line.

NIPCO engineers are finalizing substation drawings and site prep to place the battery and its associated infrastructure, which will begin this summer. The battery is expected to deploy its first charge by December 2021.

NIPCO plans to share ongoing performance data with its membership to highlight the battery’s ability to flatten demand curves, reduce power costs and use existing generating resources more efficiently.  

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