New solar field may not reduce local electric bills

Alliant says producing the energy is cheaper with solar and wind


FORT MADISON - Details on an 877-acre solar field near Wever were unveiled to Lee County residents Tuesday night at Cobblestone Inn & Suites in Fort Madison.

Less than a hundred people attended the Iowa Utilities Board Informational hearing, which was laid back in comparison to recent public hearings the IUB held over the Navigator carbon capture pipeline being proposed to be run through the county.

Justin Foss, of Alliant Energy, whose parent company Interstate Power & Light Co. is building the facility, outlined the project and fielded questions from the audience.

One of the most pressing comments was focused on possible lower costs for customers.

Foss said the company couldn't guarantee lower costs, but said it would cost less to produce the energy with solar panels.

"Will this project lower rates today?"  asked IUB board chairman Geri Huser. "Are the rates going to be lower today?"

"No", Foss said.

Will the rates be lower in a new rate case.

"I can't predict that," Foss said.

Foss said the Tuesday hearing was informational and was not a hearing on rates.

"This is a request to build a project, and so a request for a rate increase would be separate from the request to build the project," he said.

"With that being said, I can say that what solar energy provides is a lower fuel cost as opposed to other alternatives that we have."

He said as Alliant builds more solar and wind energy, they have the cost of the asset, but no longer have a cost for fuel to run the asset.

"That is a trade off as opposed to building a traditional generation that comes with both the cost of the asset and the cost of the fuel to run the asset," Foss said.

He said Alliant intends to have a diverse mix that provides reliable power that's as good for the economy and the environment as possible.

Other questions focused on property tax dollars under the easement agreements and insurance, among others.

Foss said property owners would not be responsible for either the property tax or insurance under the agreements, which are good for 30 years with an option for another 20 at Alliant's discretion. He said, however, the county will still get tax payments on the land from Alliant.

The property for the site will be directly north of the Iowa Fertilizer Plant and then northwest of the plant almost to the Augusta Access on the south side of the Skunk River.

He said the energy produced will go onto Alliant's overall energy grid, like all the other facilities in the state.

A collector substation will run above ground wires to a substation that connects to the fertilizer plant so it could help with resilience, but the energy produced will not run to the fertilizer plant. Most of the other wiring for the system will run underground.

A battery station is also planned for the project near the substation which will be fenced off with chain link and barbed wire.

The solar field will have "deer" fencing which will allow deer onto the property, but will keep other animals that could be detrimental to the panels away.

There are also ecological plans in place for native plants and growth around the panels to reduce the need for mowing, but add to the environmental value of the project. Foss said that could take several years for the native growth to take affect.


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