While farmers are fretting over too much heat and too little rain, the sunshine is a welcome sight to Iowans involved in generating solar energy. Luther College in Decorah will start drawing power later this summer from what will be the largest solar array in Iowa. Luther Professor Jim Martin-Schramm helped spearhead the project and says it consists of a wide field of panels slightly elevated off the ground.
“It’s bounded by some trees on the south and on the west so I think many people passing by Luther on U.S. 52 won’t even know it’s there,” Martin-Schramm says. “But if you were to fly over and look down, it would be approximately the size of a football field.”
Martin-Schramm wants to have the array up and running before students come back in the fall. That solar project got a boost in the form of a renewable energy tax credit from the Iowa legislature earlier this year. Nathaniel Baer, spokesman for the Iowa Environmental Council, says the tax credits should spark more wind and solar power projects which he says are good for both the environment and the economy.
“Our study looked at a much larger amount of solar being installed than this tax credit will lead to, but it was a significant job creation opportunity,” Baer says. “In a project over five years to build 300 megawatts of solar, we could see just in one year alone close to 5,000 jobs created.”
Baer says it’s slow going as there aren’t many people using solar power in Iowa. He hopes the tax credit — the first one available statewide that targets home owners — will change that. Baer says top solar states get 2-5% of their total energy from the sun, which he says is a good goal for Iowa.
Baer and Martin-Schramm made their comments on the Iowa Public Radio show “River to River.”