Powering the Hawkeye State
Member-owned and not-for-profit, we explore expanding energy generation in Iowa with Bill Cherrier, Executive Vice President and CEO of Central Iowa Power Cooperative
Writer: Jack Salter | Project Manager: Tom McConnell
From changing generation options to new technologies, the electric utility industry is evolving faster than ever before.
Utilities across North America understand the importance of diversity in generation and are working as quickly as possible to integrate renewables and other technologies, while using a balanced approach to ensure grid reliability.
Though the industry is changing, new energy projects can nevertheless take up to 10 years to plan, site, develop, and construct.
Careful planning is therefore essential, and nobody knows this better than Bill Cherrier, Executive Vice President and CEO of Central Iowa Power Cooperative (CIPCO) since October 2017.
A graduate in accounting from Loras College in Dubuque, Iowa, Cherrier joined the organization with a sizable 35 years of experience in the utility industry, most recently serving as Chief Planning and Finance Officer for Colorado Springs Utilities.
In his time at CIPCO, a generation and transmission electric cooperative, he has overseen the organization’s changing generation landscape.
“CIPCO’s generation expansion includes Heartland Divide Wind’s 104-megawatt (MW) purchase power agreement, the $85 million repowering of Summit Lake Generation Station to efficient natural gas-fired reciprocating engines, and the recently completed 100 MW Wapello Solar and 54 MW Independence Wind Energy long-term power purchase agreements (PPAs),” Cherrier tells us.
“In previous positions during my career, I have also led the acquisition of a 480 MW combined-cycle gas power plant and was an integral part of the executive team on a $1 billion water supply project,” he adds.
“As a not-for-profit energy provider, CIPCO is committed to providing safe, reliable, and cost-effective power”
People over profit
With approximately 100 employees, CIPCO serves 13-member rural electric cooperatives and associations across 58 of Iowa’s 99 counties.
Electric cooperatives such as CIPCO are not-for-profit organizations that are owned by their distribution cooperative members. They first brought power to rural America when other utilities did not, and to this day, electric cooperatives are governed by an elected board of directors who come from the distribution cooperative members served by the cooperative.
An emphasis is therefore placed on people over profits, as cooperatives return patronage margins, above the cost of providing electricity each year to its member-owners.
“As a not-for-profit energy provider, CIPCO is committed to providing safe, reliable, and cost-effective power, and has returned an impressive $120 million in patronage to its member-owners since inception,” shares Cherrier. “The make-up of Iowa’s electric service boundaries allows cooperatives to focus on providing the best for those we directly service, not shareholders with a focus on profits.
“Our board is comprised of individuals who live on our member-owned service lines, so the decisions they make directly impact their neighbors. It’s this local focus that allows an electric cooperative like CIPCO to make decisions in the best interests of our member-owners and not based on profits,” he continues.
With a balanced portfolio of energy sources, CIPCO provides energy to its member-owners that is a diverse mix of wind, hydro, solar, landfill gas, natural gas, and coal energy resources.
CIPCO takes great pride in providing a diverse portfolio that includes multiple fuel sources to its member-owners. This focus on diversity allows CIPCO to maintain stable wholesale power rates, ensuring that member-owners continue to provide safe, reliable, and cost-effective power to member-consumers down the line.
“Rural electric cooperatives electrified rural Iowa and are committed to providing energy for decades to come,” Cherrier affirms.
CIPCO is headquartered in Cedar Rapids with offices in Des Moines, Wilton and Creston, the latter of which is also home to the wholly-owned Summit Lake generation plant, complete with combustion turbines and natural gas reciprocating engines.
Each turbocharged engine generates 18.8 MW, and because they run at a very low and constant speed, the reciprocating engines can start and stop quickly and be tuned for efficiency.
Having met all environmental and performance goals after rigorous testing, the new generators reached commercial operation in 2021 and were part of a substantial $85 million repowering project at the site.
“With the new engines, Summit Lake produces 110 MW of power as a peaking facility. The project also included the demolition of the 70-year-old steam plant, construction of a new administration building and garage, and significant substation upgrades,” outlines Cherrier.
The expansion of Summit Lake, CIPCO’s largest generation construction project to date, provides CIPCO member-owners with a low-cost natural gas peaking option that will run when demand is high, particularly during the summer months.
It adds flexibility to the system, thereby maintaining the stable prices CIPCO has provided to member-owners for the last decade while allowing the organization to strategically purchase energy and capacity from new, cost-effective wind and solar resources.
“Repowering Summit Lake adds greater diversity to CIPCO’s portfolio and complements the continued buildout of resources with dispatchable, quick-start natural gas capacity to run when the wind and sun aren’t producing electricity. Keeping the lights on for our members 24/7 is our top priority,” Cherrier says.
Elsewhere, CIPCO’s generation expansion includes the recently completed 100 MW Wapello Solar project developed by Clēnera LLC.
CIPCO, which also owns six small-scale solar sites (totalling 6.4 MW) in six communities throughout southern and eastern Iowa, announced its intent to purchase 100 percent of the energy and capacity from Wapello Solar in December 2018, with the project reaching commercial operation in March 2021.
Despite beginning construction during the COVID-19 pandemic, Iowa’s largest solar project located in Louisa County progressed with little to no delay.
“Wapello Solar is located on nearly 800 acres of land and contains 318,000 bifacial solar panels on single-axis trackers, which are optimized for bifacial performance,” Cherrier informs us.
“As an intermittent energy source, Wapello Solar provides energy during peak heat times in the summer, as well as peak heat times throughout the year.”
Hot on the heels of Wapello Solar, CIPCO is once again working with Clēnera LLC to develop Coggon Solar, another 100 MW solar facility in northern Linn County.
Maintaining a similar footprint to Wapello Solar, with the milestone project scheduled for completion in late 2023, Coggon Solar will bring significant economic benefits to the local area.
According to Clēnera LLC, the project will contribute several million dollars in property tax revenue to Linn County over the life of the generating facility. An estimated 350 construction jobs will also be created, many of which will be taken up by local labor.
Wind in its sails
Complementary to CIPCO’s solar endeavors is wind energy, with the new Independence Wind Farm reaching commercial operation in December 2021.
CIPCO currently has a PPA in place to acquire 100 percent of the energy and capacity output from the generation site, owned by BHE Renewables.
“The 54 MW intermittent energy source provides cost-effective power for CIPCO members. Wind is a complement to solar, as its availability is excellent in cooler months or on windier days,” Cherrier states.
CIPCO’s largest wind energy project to date, meanwhile, is the Heartland Divide Wind Energy Center (HDWEC), whose 43 GE wind turbines are designed to pivot and capture the prevailing wind and convert it to electricity.
Through a 20-year, 104 MW PPA, CIPCO member-owners have been served with energy produced by HDWEC since the project became operational in December 2018.
HDWEC represents an investment in Iowa of more than $150 million and is expected to deliver millions of dollars in additional revenue to landowners and local communities as it generates power for CIPCO.
It has already created a great deal of enthusiasm and positive economic activity in the community, with the extra tax revenue generated going a long way to help the county enhance its schools, roads, and essential services.
CIPCO’s relationship with vendors is critical to the success of its energy generation activities, particularly during times of supply chain stress.
“It’s essential that we have access to the necessary supplies, poles, wires, transformers, etc. to maintain CIPCO’s reliability standards,” says Cherrier, who concludes by outlining CIPCO’s equally emphatic emphasis on community relations.
“CIPCO and its member-owners are committed to the Seven Cooperative Principles. Principle number seven, concern for community, is important to us; we give back to the communities served through donations to non-profit organizations and by supporting economic growth with low- or zero-interest loan opportunities for businesses looking to grow and expand in rural Iowa.”
It is these Iowan communities that will continue to benefit for years to come from the cost-effective, safe, and reliable energy that CIPCO provides for its member-owners.