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New Partnership In Iowa Could Lead To State’s First Microgrid

Photo Courtesy Iowa State University/Montezuma Municipal Light & Power

The combined $11.9 million would provide the Iowa town of Montezuma with a microgrid that can operate independently or be connected to the larger grid. The Iowa Capital Dispatch reported that the microgrid would replace aging substations and other equipment and install two electric vehicle (EV) chargers. Power would be generated through solar panels and a battery storage system.

According to a U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) news release, the Montezuma project is one of 17 chosen for award negotiations through the Energy Improvements in Rural or Remote Areas program. Projects are spread across 20 states and 30 Tribal nations.

Photo Courtesy U.S. Department of Energy 

Zhaoyu Wang, Montezuma project leader and ISU associate professor of electrical and computer engineering, said in an email to the Dispatch that the partnership hopes to start the project in late 2024 or early 2025.

The project is expected to take four years to complete and could serve as a model to help other rural utilities modernize power systems.

“This is so much more than an R&D project because it will directly benefit more than 1,400 Montezuma residents and generate significant impacts on surrounding counties,” Wang said in the ISU news release. “It shows Iowa State University is working to bring real benefits to Iowans and boost local economies.”

Once in operation, the microgrid will generate 3 megawatts (MW) of renewable energy for local communities, county offices, and small businesses.

Energy costs are estimated to drop by 18%, and Montezuma Municipal Light & Power will also save hundreds of thousands of dollars a year, according to the ISU news release.

Photo Courtesy Iowa State University 

“This is a huge benefit for our customers and for local economic development because it provides long-term rate stability from the solar and the battery energy storage systems,” Kevin Kudart, Montezuma Municipal Light & Power superintendent, said in a statement. “Our reliability will increase with the new, more modern switchgear, and our outage time will be reduced by having new controls. And we’ll promote good customer relations by providing vehicle charging stations.”

On its website, the DOE described the city of Montezuma as “a rural community with 1,460 residents that experiences extreme weather events, aging infrastructure, and a 53% reliance on fossil fuels.”

The DOE said the Montezuma project aims to deploy a 2.5 MW solar array and 1.5 MWh battery storage system microgrid with EV “chargers and advanced metering to reduce reliance on aging infrastructure and backup diesel generation.”

The goal is to service 706 residential homes, 201 commercial buildings, and two industries. 

As the Energy Department noted, more than 40 local community groups have endorsed the endeavor through community partnership letters. Groups backing the project include:

  • Labor unions
  • Veteran, minority, and women-owned businesses
  • Community colleges
  • Iowa state and local governments 

The project also seeks to develop a renewable microgrid curriculum for community colleges and the Meskwaki Nation, providing training and apprenticeship programs for the local workforce.

Anne Kimber, director of the Electric Power Research Center and a project co-leader, said in the ISU news release that the new microgrid will have “immediate benefits for the community” because of its power and the added value to local stakeholders.

Photo Courtesy Iowa State University/Christopher Gannon

“The digital twin of the Montezuma microgrid and the training curricula that we’ll develop and test with various partners — ranging from K–12 schools, the Meskwaki Nation, unions, and community colleges — will build an energy workforce that can design, build, and operate other resilient systems like this,” Kimber added.


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