Iowa City Solar Study

Students in the School of Planning and Public Affairs course Environmental Policy researched technical and policy solutions to advance more solar energy generation in Iowa City, with a focus on resilience, economic benefits, and equitable access.  UI faculty members Scott Spak, Adam Skibbe, and Travis Kraus worked with local stakeholders to complete the study. 

This report examines the role of solar energy in meeting Iowa City’s energy needs now and in the future. Currently, solar electricity represents less than one-half of one percent of the city’s energy load. Iowa City’s leadership in combating climate change is focused primarily on energy efficiency and electrification, with solar energy generation playing a lesser role. In 2020, the City’s partnership with MidAmerican Energy to develop a solar farm at Waterworks Park drew strong community opposition, as many residents objected to the loss of open space at the park. 

In the months after the Waterworks Park project was halted, a small group of solar and policy experts gathered to discuss Iowa City’s solar future. Based on these discussions, Johnson Clean Energy District and the University’s Iowa Initiative for Sustainable Communities organized a collaborative study to explore alternative project sites and strategies and to solicit public input on solar expansion. Four action steps in the City’s Climate Action and Adaptation Plan and Accelerating Iowa City’s Action Plan provided direction in calling for: (1) increased on-site renewable energy and electrification; (2) community solar projects; (3) support for electric vehicles; and (4) weather preparedness. That guidance, along with the City’s strong commitment to social justice, framed the approach described in this report. 

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