FRYTOWN, Iowa — For the past five years, in the unincorporated community of Frytown, southwest of Iowa City, Farmers Electric Cooperative has been one of the state's leading proponents of solar power.
And with plans to purchase about nine acres of land south of Farmers Electric Co-op headquarters near Kalona, co-op manager Warren McKenna said the oldest rural electric cooperative in Iowa is on the verge of taking solar power to a whole new level.
The first stage in the solar farm proposal calls for the installation of about four acres of solar panels to feed renewable power back into the co-op. A second phase could more than double the number of solar panels to cover about nine acres.
The Iowa City Press-Citizen reports that work on the nearly 2,000-module solar farm could begin by the start of 2014. When finished, it would be the largest solar field in the state, McKenna said.
“I think once we get the farm done, we will actually probably lead the nation in watts per customer,” McKenna said. “That's huge.”
Founded in 1916, Farmers Electric Co-op has been investing in solar power since 2008, when the cooperative installed solar arrays at Township Elementary and Iowa Mennonite School for renewable energy and educational opportunities.
Next came the solar garden, which allows residents to purchase solar panels, at a reduced cost, in the cooperative's growing solar array behind the company's main building. The value of power generated on the panels is then deducted from the customer's electric bill.
Maria Urice, a consultant who helps coordinate and market the cooperative's renewable and energy efficiency efforts, said the solar garden was an immediate success.
“We offered 20 (panels), and they were sold out in less than a week,” she said.
Another initiative allows residents to purchase and install site arrays near their businesses, farms or homes.
All these initiatives fit into the co-op's goal of generating 15 percent of its entire power output using renewable energy by 2025.
At this rate, that goal could be met a decade early, McKenna said.
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