Corn Belt Power solar project nearing completion

Corn Belt Power’s first solar project is now mostly complete. After a few delays, the remaining panels in the 150-kilowatt array are generating energy at Wisdom Station.

The project features two different types of photovoltaic panel arrangements, a fixed-tilt array and an array of single-axis tracking panels.

“So far the Wisdom Solar project is performing well,” said Jacob Olberding, vice president, power supply, Corn Belt Power. “The fixed-tilt array has been in service for almost a year and the single-axis tracking array began producing power earlier in July. It was a fun project to be a part of and was a good learning experience. The experience gained from this project will be valuable if Corn Belt is able to do another larger solar project in the future.”

The panels take up the space once occupied by the plant’s coal pile. Wisdom Station converted to an all-gas burning facility in 2014.

There are 600 total panels at Corn Belt Power’s Wisdom Station with 75 kilowatts of generation on each of the fixed tilt and single-axis tracking arrays.

“We hope to learn more about the true costs and benefits of the two technologies – fixed-tilt versus single-axis tracking,” said Olberding. “We tried to set up as much of an “apples to apples” comparison as we could. The two arrays are located right next to each other. Each array has the same size model, quantity of solar panels and inverters. We will be monitoring and documenting the performance and costs associated with the two arrays throughout the life of the project so that our members can make informed decisions when considering the two technologies.”

A fixed-tilt array is an array in which the panels never move and are pointed in one direction at all times. The single-axis tracking panels will move with the sun to maximize energy generation.

“We are still waiting on the tracker control unit (TCU) that controls the position of the panels in the tracking array,” said Olberding. “Those panels will be locked in their stow position - parallel with the ground - until the TCU is installed. These stowed panels are currently producing energy. Once the TCU is installed, the project will be fully complete.”

Iowa Choice Renewables, a company established and run by a group of electric cooperatives in rural Iowa, installed the system.

“Iowa Choice Renewables was easy to work with throughout the project,” said Olberding.

The array interconnects to the Iowa Lakes Electric Cooperative distribution system at Wisdom Station. Olberding said the Iowa Lakes staff was helpful through the interconnection process.

“They were very accommodating and flexible,” he said. “They were great partners in this process.”

The project adds to the seven megawatts of nameplate capacity already on Corn Belt Power’s system.

Corn Belt Power plans to set up a webpage for co-op members to see how the two different array perform.