October 22, 2021

County hears proposal for solar-powered courthouse

As Union County researches a commercial solar-power ordinance, supervisors were given a proposal Monday to use solar power for the courthouse.

T.J. Klith, a representative from Trusted Energy in Storm Lake, informed the supervisors of installing solar-power panels either on the roof of the courthouse or on adjacent, county-owned property to power the building.

No action was taken. Supervisors said they will further research the idea.

“I think we have to look into it. We can’t afford not to,” said Supervisor Dennis Brown.

Klith explained how the program works.

“County facilities using solar can produce their own electricity far less than buying it from a utility provider,” he said. He explained another county’s facility, which he kept anonymous, spent $17,000 a year on electricity and converted to solar. Over 30 years, about $700,000 is estimated to be saved.

Union County’s annual electric bill was not known during the meeting.

Klith said a system is priced at about $170,000.

“It will pay itself back over nine or 10 years,” he said. The panels have a warranty of 25 years and the entire system is expected to last at least 30 years.

Klith said Alliant, which is the county’s utility provider, net meters. Any over production of solar goes back to grid and the county will receive credits. The county can use those credits when solar production is minimal.

“Nothing is wasted in terms of production,” he said.

The system can be placed on a structure’s roof, provides it is structurally sound. Engineers are hired for that work.

Creston City Council is reviewing its ordinance for solar-powered properties. The county would have to follow that ordinance since the courthouse is within city limits.

Klith said if the county agrees, Trusted will review electric bills to design a system. Trusted will have a cost of the custom system and expected utility savings.

“I’ve never heard of anybody who went solar regretting going solar,” he said.

Klith said Trusted has projects in northwest Iowa including Okoboji. According to its website, the company has had success at Grinnell College.

Grinnell College signed a 20-year purchase agreement with Trusted Energy, which provides renewable electricity from a solar installation on 30 acres of farmland adjacent to campus.

The agreement will enable Grinnell to save approximately $3 million in electricity costs over 20 years. In addition, the college will reduce its yearly carbon footprint by 18%.

The college worked with Trusted Energy officials for two years to develop the project.

The 4-megawatt solar installation has 10,296 solar panels linked to a single axis tracker that rotate the panels from east to west each day to follow the sun. When operating at full capacity, the solar farm will provide about 30% of campus electricity. The college will continue to purchase electricity to meet the rest of its needs from Alliant Energy.

The facility also will provide 540 kilowatts of energy storage. This battery storage will reduce the college’s energy costs at times of peak demand for electricity.

In other county news, sheriff Mark Shepherd informed the supervisors of a jailer position job offer to Tony Benson of Creston. He will fill a vacancy. Benson is a veteran and has experience working in the Colorado Department of Corrections. Supervisors unanimously approved Shepherd’s recommendation.

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.