Holliday Creek Solar array now operational
A 100-megawatt solar farm capable of powering 19,000 Iowa homes started operating last month in Webster County.
The Holliday Creek Solar Farm, located between Fort Dodge and Vincent, is a project of MidAmerican Energy Co. and was constructed by Blattner Energy and EDF Renewables. Construction on the 700-acre, $200 million project started last summer and it was the largest of six solar projects MidAmerican powered up this year, totaling 141 megawatts.
“We placed our first utility-scale solar array online in January near Iowa City, and we’ve been working at a rapid pace since then, flipping the switch at five more solar sites, including our largest to date, the 100-megawatt Holliday Creek project northeast of Fort Dodge,” said Mike Fehr, senior vice president of renewable generation and compliance. “This year opens up a new chapter for us in MidAmerican’s growing renewable energy fleet that delivers clean, low-cost, sustainable domestic energy to our customers.”
The site features 265,350 solar modules across about 700 acres. The solar modules, or panels, are bi-facial, so the back side of the panels can also absorb solar energy reflected off the ground.
The solar farms will complement the existing wind farms across the state, Adam Jablonski, vice president of resource development, said. Unlike wind turbines, solar arrays are able to produce energy every day, even on cloudy days.
“We have over 7,000 megawatts of wind and only 141 megawatts of solar, but yesterday, solar was out-producing our wind,” Jablonski said on Friday.
The panels, which each weigh 770 pounds, are built on a single-axis tracking system, so the rows of panels start the day facing the east at a 52-degree angle, and it follows the sun through the sky, ending the day facing west at a 52-degree angle.
“They all go back on their own and they’ll move one power block at a time,” said Nate Steffes, construction manager. “They all don’t move together, so you don’t see a big change.”
In the event of a storm event or high winds, the solar panels will rotate to tilt into the wind and prevent damage.
The solar energy is absorbed by the solar panels, and then travels to an inverter that converts the direct current (DC) energy into alternating current (AC) energy, which then goes to a substation and then onto the power grid.
“It will go onto the grid and jump off where it’s needed first,” Jablonski said. “If there’s days where the wind generation is really, really high, it goes farther and farther out.”
The $200 million project was a large investment into Webster County, but some landowners near the site were wary when it first broke ground.
“Solar is not very common in Iowa yet, so some of the surrounding landowners had some concerns before the project was built, just because of the unknown,” Jablonski said. “But as you can see, the modules don’t really get much taller than corn and it’s a passive generating facility with not a lot of sound movement or anything like that, so it fits in very well.”
Jablonski said MidAmerican and the construction firms worked to alleviate those concerns. They maintained the roads to the construction site and ensured there was no dust impact on the neighboring properties. At the end of the project, they also restored the roads back to their original condition.
“We installed 130,000 feet of drain tile throughout the project just to make sure that the landowners that surround the property don’t have water issues because of the project,” Steffes said.
As part of the project development, MidAmerican made donations to various local organizations, including food banks, schools and the Salvation Army. They also donated new ballistics shields to the Webster County Sheriff’s Department.
“We want to be good neighbors wherever we are,” Jablonski said.
The upkeep and maintenance on the solar farm will be minimal, Jablonski said. MidAmerican will have a couple electrical technicians who will oversee the site. The solar farm is expected to have a lifespan of about 30 to 40 years, though as time goes on, the solar modules will be less efficient and lose production capacity.
At its peak of construction, the Webster County project had around 200 workers, Steffes said. Now, with the bulk of the construction completed and the site online, about 30 workers are putting the final touches on the solar farm. They’re working on restoring the ground around the solar arrays and planting a pollinator mix to grow vegetation around the site.
BY THE NUMBERS
• 265,350 solar modules
• 45,000 piles
• 140 inverters
• 100 megawatts of energy
• 130,000 feet of drain tile
• 700 acres