Cedar Rapids becomes anchor tenant in Alliant Energy community solar garden

Alliant Energy community solar garden
Alliant Energy's community solar garden in the 1100 block of 33rd Avenue SW in Cedar Rapids. CREDIT ALLIANT ENERGY

The City of Cedar Rapids is now an anchor tenant of Alliant Energy’s community solar garden on the city’s southwest side.

The city council voted unanimously Tuesday to enter into a 20-year agreement with Alliant to purchase 900 blocks of 250-watt solar panels – about 5% of the solar garden’s total available output – at a cost of $291 per block.

The total subscription fee of $261,900 will be paid by the city’s utility department, with costs split between the water and water pollution control divisions.

The community solar project, Alliant’s first such project in Iowa, was announced in July 2022.

The 4.5 megawatt solar energy facility will consist of 18,000 solar “blocks,” with each 250-watt block expected to produce 541 kilowatts per year. At full capacity, the project, being installed on about 30 acres of company-owned property north of the 1100 block of 33rd Avenue SW, could produce enough energy annually to power 3,600 homes.

The Cedar Rapids-based garden is part of Alliant’s Community Solar program, allowing the company’s electric customers to benefit from solar power without installing solar panels on their property. Under the community solar model, subscribers purchase blocks of solar energy to cover their electrical usage and receive monthly credits on their electric bills for every block. The credits will begin once the project is operational and continue for the life of the project.

Renewable energy from the project will be used to power the Cedar Rapids community.

Alliant officials said the company has long planned a solar installation on the Cedar Rapids site, and is being installed in response to customer requests for additional opportunities to access renewable energy.

Alliant spokesperson Chris Caparole said Cedar Rapids is now the third anchor tenant in the community solar garden, which is nearly fully subscribed. Transamerica and Aegon announced their anchor tenancy when the project was first unveiled, purchasing about 60% of the total solar blocks. First Interstate Bank became the second anchor tenant in July, subscribing to 15% of the solar blocks.

Cedar Rapids sustainability program manager Sara Maples told the council Tuesday that by becoming an anchor tenant, the city will receive an estimated annual utility bill credit of $29,200 in the first year, with a total 20-year bill credit of $562,500.

She also noted the purchase supports two council-adopted plans: Envision CR, which encourages environmental stewardship and promotes economic and social growth while restoring the relationship between the city and its natural environment, and the Community Climate Action Plan, which includes an objective to increase the city’s electrical supply from renewable sources to 70-100% by the year 2025.

“This obviously fits in with our goals, but it also encourages Alliant to continue to build these kinds of projects, whether they’re around here or within their service territory,” council member Tyler Olson said. “I also think there’s opportunities for more solar for the city, to continue to look for those opportunities, whether they’re on our buildings or next to them.”

“There is a demand for this, because I live in a condo complex and I’m participating because I’m not allowed to put solar panels up either on my condo or in the yard,” council member Scott Olson added. “I think it’s important that we make every effort to improve the sustainability of our community, and what Alliant has done is a great step forward, as proven by the fact that we have all kinds of companies and homeowners that have participated in this development in an area (where) it’s a perfect fit.”

Mr. Caparole said Alliant has another solar garden in Wisconsin and a second in the planning stages, but the Cedar Rapids solar garden is the company’s largest to date. He said the company may consider other solar garden developments in Iowa, but none has yet been announced.

“We’re thrilled with both the corporate and residential response” to the Cedar Rapids solar garden, he added. “It’s been a real accomplishment to get this many people interested.”