JOHNSON COUNTY, Iowa — Sunny days will now mean more business for one electric coop with the opening of the state’s largest solar energy farm north of Kalona.
Nearly 3,000 solar panels are now at work on a solar farm constructed for the Farmers Electric Cooperative of Frytown. That almost triple the size of the state’s now second largest solar operation in Decorah.
The power generated by the sun on the four acre site will feed energy into the power grid for the coop’s 650 members. But a lot of it will go almost next door to the Farmers Hen House egg facility. Ryan Miller, one of the owners, was excited about getting the benefit of the solar energy investment.
“We’re very excited about it because we’ll use the power from here and being in the organic business we like the idea of using renewable energy,” Miller said.
Those who gathered to celebrate the solar farm at the site on Thursday said one reason solar made sense for the project was the cost of the panels. There are 2,900 total and as recently as six years ago, each that size might have cost about $1,000. Now the price is about $250. So the economics are starting to work in favor of solar power.
The project cost approximately $2.2-million dollars. Warren McKenna, CEO of Farmers Electric Cooperative, said Iowa’s push for renewable energy has largely focused on wind power to date. But the wind in the southeastern part of the state isn’t as strong or reliable as it is in the northwest.
So with the cost of equipment dropping solar is looking better.
“It’s very competitive with wind. There are no moving parts, and you don’t have to climb a tower. It’s a great technology,” McKenna said.
McKenna said Farmers Electric may be the largest solar facility in the state now. But he doesn’t expect that distinction to last as other rural electric coops are watching what’s happening at the new solar farm facility.
One determining factor may be just how long it would take, in energy savings, to pay back a solar project.
Barry Shear, president of Eagle Point Solar, said “depending on how big it is and where it is, how big the customer is the answer is anywhere from six to eight years. For an infrastructure investment, those are excellent returns.”
Farmers Electric had a long-term goal of generating 15 percent of power from local renewable sources by the year 2025. The state’s largest solar farm to date puts the coop well along that path.