FAIRFIELD – As part of their Building a Better Iowa and 99 county tours, Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds and Lt. Gov. Adam Gregg met with renewable energy innovators from Ideal Energy Solar, a local small business in Fairfield, on Wednesday, Aug. 21 to tour the recently completed 1.1 megawatt solar power array. The visit consisted of a walk through the solar panels, located on the Maharishi University of Management’s campus, and a discussion on the economic impact of the project on the local community and the state of Iowa.
The solar power array, often referred to as the “MEG’Array,” supplies a third of the university’s electric power. Ideal Energy Solar founders Troy and Amy Van Beek introduced the project to Reynolds at their office prior to the walk through, explaining the new technology being utilized by the array, including the vanadium battery storage which allows the university to make use of stored power during peak usage hours. The battery storage component allows the university to further shave off energy costs.
University president, John Hagelin, noted during the visit that the university is home to the first sustainable living major and master’s program, and the first regenerative organic agriculture programs in the United States. Hagelin further explained the university’s commitment to clean energy, saying that the university hopes “to become completely off-the-grid in the not-too-distant future,” and that the installation and use of the solar array is “a big, big step in that direction.”
Beyond discussion of environmental impact, the project was a stand-out because of its potential to help invigorate economic growth. In partnership with the Iowa Economic Development Authority and Ideal Energy, the Fairfield Economic Development Association (FEDA), a local nonprofit, is studying the array and its economic impact. The Iowa Economic Development Authority provided FEDA a $200,000 grant to conduct the research.
“With this being one of the very first energy storage projects in the entire state, we think there’s so much to glean from the operation of this solar storage … when we put our resources into a project, we want those lessons to be lessons learned and to be shared with projects that are similar that come behind it so that they don’t have the same hiccups, so we just saw such value with this … and also we think this could be a springboard to other like-projects around Iowa,” Brian Selinger, the director of the energy office at the Iowa Economic Development Authority, said of the funding.
Joshua Laraby, executive director of FEDA, also emphasized the project’s potential in providing businesses and homeowners new sources for energy, which in turn, could lower costs.
“This project is important because it’s driving innovation in how energy is available,” Laraby said. “In the case of businesses, battery storage will help save on electrical demand charges. For the utility provider, it will assist in buffering the fluctuations grid.”
Laraby continued, noting the advantage of extra dollars for Iowa, “When businesses and homeowners have an opportunity to save, those dollars will stay in your community … the state of Iowa is interested in growing the economy and if we can save businesses money on their utility bills, ultimately those dollars will be reinvested in the companies, employees and state.”
Ideal Energy co-founder Troy Van Beek explained that the “MEG’Array” is just the beginning for the company.
“The governor has been a big proponent for renewable energy and it’s really amounted to a lot of wind industry in the state of Iowa. We power nearly 40% of the state through wind. What we want to do is grow the solar industry to an equal degree; there’s so much potential with it. We’re literally harvesting sunshine … there’s lots of opportunity to expand this industry, [and] we create lots of jobs,” Van Beek said.
As part of its commitment to creating jobs, Ideal Energy implemented an apprenticeship program that recruits workers who are on the path to becoming journeymen.
“We have visions of growing our company and the best way to have employees is to create them,” Van Beek said. “It’s not easy to find the qualified electricians that we need, we’re in a rural community and the big talent usually goes off into the city so we have to grow it right here. We’ve taken the time to create the apprenticeship program so that we can inspire individuals to get trained up while they’re working on the job … Just recently we have a job-shadow high-schooler, but we [also] have people out of college looking to get trained for a new career.”
Gov. Reynolds, who sees renewable energy sources as a promising economic driver, mentioned Iowa’s place at the forefront of innovation during the visit, saying, “We’re very proud of our leadership role when it comes to renewable energy.”
She noted during an interview at the Iowa State Fair last week that renewables, “attract businesses to the state of Iowa, because they want that green, that renewable energy to be a part of their portfolio.”
Fairfield mayor, Ed Malloy, echoed the governor’s sentiments saying, “Fairfield and the companies involved with renewable energy have been leaders for a decade in Iowa. It’s nice to see the governor’s involvement and recognition of this extraordinary project.”
Malloy, who is in his final term as mayor, noted the city’s ability to continue moving forward as a leader: “Fairfield has a track record of success and a template and plan that was developed 10 years ago that the next government can review and look for new ways to conserve energy and continue be at the leading edge and leave less of a carbon footprint.”