June 20, 2021

Louisa supervisors shed light on solar power

For Union County to add to their research and needs if to allow solar power generation, they can look at the other side of Iowa for an example.

Three months ago, Clenera energy company turned on its solar-power generator near Wapello that converts the sun’s rays into 127.5 megawatts of power. Located in Louisa County, the project was about two years in the making. Clēnera acquires, develops, builds and manages commercial-scale solar farms and energy storage facilities in the United States.

About 320,000 solar panels blanket approximately 800 acres of land that once was covered by corn and soybeans.

Louisa County Supervisor Chris Ball said the county was not concerned about the number of acres set aside for solar power in Louisa rather than the quality of land to build.

“It had to be on certain ground,” Ball said about ordinance work with the county’s zoning board. “It’s on lower productive ground, along the Iowa River.”

Location to a electrical substation also played a part in siting the project, said fellow supervisor Brad Quigley. Central Iowa Power Cooperative is buying the electricity through a 25-year contract. The amount of megawatts is enough for 45,000 homes in a year.

Quigley said the setback details in the ordinance were altered after construction.

“We changed it up after it was put in to see where it was not effective,” Quigley said. “If you choose to participate (to have solar power), you can have closer setbacks.” Setbacks are a determined distance between the operation and certain structures, like homes.

Iowa’s dreary, winter days are not a problem for solar power generation.

“It still collects rays on cloudy days, just not as much,” Quigley said.

The solar panels pivot as the sun moves across the sky during the day.

“They face east when the sun comes up,” Ball said. “And the turn to the west as the sun goes down.” Panels are designed to not give off a distracting glare.

After a heavy snowfall, the panels can be tilted in a way to have the snow slide off the surface.

He added the panels are able to absorb sun rays that reflect off the ground too. The panels are bifacial, which means the sun’s rays are collected on both sides, not just one.

Louisa County approved using a $1 million bond for decommissioning. The decommission plan requires the owner of the solar-power farm, not the landowners, to return to the land to the condition it was before construction.

Quigley said the panels do not have any hazardous materials so they can be left in a landfill.

“There is no cement poured,” Ball said. “The support posts are just driven into the ground. The pilings can be pulled and there is nothing in the panels to worry about.”

Quigley said because of the panels’ regular movements, the ground underneath will still receive sunlight.

“The farm ground underneath is still good,” he said. “With corn and beans, the sun is driven to grow the crops. There’s a reason why they call it solar power. We can still use the land to benefit and from the savings of not using oil from other countries.”

Ball, who has been a supervisor for three, four-year terms, also farms. He looks at the solar power projects as additional revenue for landowners who are compensated having the panels on their land.

“It does pay a landowner good money. There are a couple of young farmers that still have a combine payment. If I had the ground, it would have been very lucrative for me to do it,” he said.

Ball did say he has heard from other farmers who were concerned about taking ground out of production.

“I’ve talked to 10 other counties that have called with questions,” Quigley said about solar power. The solar panels have not yet been assessed for tax purposes. How much revenue they will generate for Louisa County has not yet been determined.

Quigley said about 250 people were involved in the construction of the solar power farm which created a “big burst” of economic spending to the county of about 11,000 residents. He said two other companies are interested in developing solar power in the county.

Ball said he understands the clean energy behind solar power. He isn’t sure of what the long term impact it will have on Louisa County.

“It’s probably good for the whole world,” he said. “But is it good for small-town Iowa? I can’t answer that yet.”






JOHN VAN NOSTRAND

An Iowa native, John's newspaper career has mostly been in small-town weeklies from the Rocky Mountains to the Mississippi River. He first stint in Creston was from 2002 to 2005.