Solar project aims to lower carbon footprint

Elizabeth Gray

Here comes the sun. 

Ames is making plans to build a community solar project of at least one megawatt in scale to reach residents and local businesses, thanks in part to a push from the Ames Progressive Alliance (APA) and the Ames Community Solar Initiative (ACSI). 

The city’s goal is to lower its carbon footprint and create a more sustainable environment for its residents. 

“It’s a simple idea with a lot of complexities,” said Betty Baird, community solar project lead for APA. 

The Ames City Council has unanimously supported the investigation of the community solar project. The estimated $8,300 study will be conducted to look at the environmental benefits, financial costs and benefits, the location of the solar plant and possible federal tax benefits. The APA and ACSI are looking at the value of solar power by researching different models for installation that would be best suited for Ames. 

The installation of the solar project is projected to take place within the 2016-2017 year.

“Six months ago the Ames Community Solar Initiative was an idea hovering by itself, and bringing the two organizations together, it has really taken off,” said Matthew Goodman, former city councilman and steering committee secretary for the APA. 

Installing private solar panels in individuals’ homes is difficult because many homes are unsuitable for panels, and the cost of installation is about $20,000-$30,000. Community solar provides some solar energy to those who may not be able to privately own it. 

The APA is a volunteer-based organization that encourages citizens’ involvement by telling local government what kind of initiatives Ames should be taking. 

“I think the alliance needs those who care about things, to know the power that they have at their finger tips to influence local and state government,” Goodman said.

The APA has five specific goals that drive its work: social justice, alternative transportation, environmental resource and renewable energy management, sustainable and equitable economic development and resident empowerment. 

Victoria Szopinski, APA co-chair, said a community focus is what pushes the organization to attract more members. 

“We want to grow our membership, our volunteer membership, and make the community better,” Szopinski said.

While the APA and ACSI are growing in interest, the benefits of solar power will as well. 

“I think in the long term, the price of gas will increase, but sunshine is free,” Baird said.