Solar project on Dubuque, Iowa brownfield wins sustainable infrastructure award

On April 19, 2018 the Institute for Sustainable Infrastructure (ISI) announced that the Dubuque Solar project, owned by Alliant Energy, recently earned the Envision Platinum rating for sustainable infrastructure – the highest Envision award level.

This is the first solar project to receive Envision recognition, and second project in Iowa to receive an Envision Platinum rating.

The award certainly doesn’t surprise me (Storm Cunningham). I keynoted Dubuque’s annual Growing Sustainable Communities conference back in 2014, and was mightily impressed with the passionate, visionary local leadership during the several days I spent in their gorgeous city. The are true Restoration Economy leaders.

Port of Dubuque Solar Garden

The project delivers on Alliant Energy’s transition to a cleaner energy future. The $14 million, 6.2 megawatt project was actually constructed on two locations. The better of the two is on a 5.9 acre brownfield site near the Port of Dubuque located near downtown Dubuque, and formerly owned by the A.Y. McDonald Manufacturing Company.

The other is more of a sprawl project on farmland, and so is not as regenerative: it’s a 21.1 acre site near the West Dubuque industrial park, and it’s now the largest solar garden in Iowa. The annual output is equal to the annual usage of about 850 average Iowa homes.

Developed in collaboration with the City of Dubuque and Greater Dubuque Development Corporation, the solar gardens play an important role in supporting the City’s sustainability and climate action goals. With broad community support, the Dubuque Solar project moved from planning and design through construction in less than 10 months. HDR led the Envision process with H&H Solar Energy Services serving as the Engineer, Procurer and Construction contractor.

The Dubuque Solar project is a clear example of sustainable leadership,” said ISI President and CEO John Stanton. “This is the largest solar project in the State of Iowa to-date and will help the City of Dubuque achieve its goals to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 50% from 2003 levels by 2030. ISI is pleased to award this project with Envision Platinum in recognition of this leadership.

The Dubuque Solar gardens deliver power with purpose, providing shared value to our customers, communities, the environment and our company,” said Terry Kouba, Vice President of Operations-Iowa for Alliant Energy. “We are honored for the recognition of generating clean energy and embracing sustainable planning and design practices.

Completion of the projects was announced on December 7, 2017 by H&H Group Holdings (headquartered in Madison, Wisconsin). For both projects, H&H Solar provided the design, engineering, construction and final installation.

West Dubuque project

The West Dubuque project, now the largest and most powerful solar energy location in Iowa, is a 5MWdc ground mount installation sitting on a 22-acre parcel utilizing AP-Alternatives Fixed Tilt Ground Mounted Racking, Canadian Solar Modules and Canadian Solar Inverters. In addition to the design, engineering and construction services provided by H&H Solar, the company also handled the procurement and permitting for the project. Because accessibility to the site was a challenge, the construction of 2,000 feet of service roads was required for a successful installation.

Officially named the Port of Dubuque Solar Garden, the second project’s 1.2 MW capacity is located on a 5-acre parcel that was originally an industrial site which created a litany of problems and challenges. According to Dave Garner, Project Developer for H&H Solar, “This was an extremely challenging project, not because of its scope, but because it was an industrial site located adjacent to downtown Dubuque. Thoughtful consideration by our engineers and designers was required to workaround factors of density, bike and pedestrian paths, and ornamental fencing, for instance, and these types of issues aren’t necessarily what we deal with in many other solar projects we design and construct.”

The Port of Dubuque Solar Garden features ground-mounted, fixed tilt ballasted racking from Solar Flex and Solar Modules and Inverters from Canadian Solar. The installation provides power to the grid at 13.8kV and features a Learning Center that offers information about the site to the public.

Combined, these two projects are expected to power 850 homes from their 19,160 panels that rest on a total of 27 acres. These sites will be the catalyst for additional solar projects throughout Iowa which has traditionally relied on wind energy as their primary source of alternative energy.

The Envision sustainable infrastructure rating system assesses sustainability in five categories: Quality of Life, Leadership, Natural World, Resource Allocation, and Climate and Risk. These contribute to positive social, economic and environmental impacts on a community during the planning, design and construction of infrastructure projects. Innovative project features incorporated into the solar gardens include:

Quality of Life: Through an investment in renewable energy, expanding public space, repurposing an underutilized brownfield near downtown and other innovative features, the Dubuque Solar project delivers multiple benefits to the community. For example, a walking and biking path extends around the Port of Dubuque site, connecting to the City’s existing trail system. An innovative Energy Lab provides the public with an up-close, unobstructed view of solar panels and opportunity to learn more about solar energy generation.

Resource Allocation: The project team implemented a sustainable procurement program with clearly defined metrics for three areas of focus: management and integrity, product stewardship, and investment in the local community. The program covered 97 percent of total project spending, meeting Alliant Energy’s goal of working with business partners and suppliers that share their vision for delivering a clean energy future.

Natural World: Native prairie grasses and flowers planted beneath the solar panels and surrounding the arrays at both sites will create new habitats and improve habitat connectivity. Prior to planting, focused efforts were made to eliminate invasive species from the project sites. Alliant Energy is also collaborating with local beekeepers to co-locate beehives at the West Dubuque site, setting precedent for an emerging industry best practice in promoting pollinator-friendly environments.

Climate and Risk: As a community solar project, electricity generated will be entirely consumed locally within the Dubuque community, thereby reducing electrical demand on the grid. Solar power reduces lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions by 83 and 91 percent compared to natural gas and coal, respectively. In addition, Alliant Energy developed a project-specific Climate Impact Assessment and Adaptation Plan, including a detailed review of potential climate change impacts and associated design and operational mitigation strategies.

Featured photo courtesy of HDR. Other photos courtesy of H&H.

See Institute for Sustainable Infrastructure website.

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