Increasing Renewables, Strengthening Reliability

In the heart of the heartland, Central Iowa Power Cooperative (CIPCO) is expanding capacity to meet its members’ electricity needs while also supporting the transition to renewable energy, all while continuing to deliver safe, reliable, cost-effective power to its cooperative members.

CIPCO, a regional power generation and transmission cooperative, provides power to 12 electric distribution cooperatives and an association of 15 small municipalities that in turn deliver electricity to residents and businesses throughout 58 rural Iowa counties. Since a nuclear generation facility of which it was part owner was decommissioned several years ago, the cooperative has been focused on adding capacity back into its system.

“The primary goal for our members is to produce reliable, low-cost power that they can deliver to their consumer-members, and in today’s world, that can be very, very challenging,” says Bill Cherrier, CIPCO’S CEO. “Building capacity is critical, as is the long-term goal of the carbon transition.”

CIPCO is meeting the challenge head-on, bringing on a mix of generation facilities to build a diversified portfolio that includes coal, hydroelectric, wind, solar, landfill gas, natural gas and oil energy resources. Recent installations include a 100 MW solar array, bringing the total to seven arrays that combined with wind, hydro and landfill gas provides 37% of CIPCO’S generated power. As a non-profit organization, CIPCO has not been able to take advantage of the federal tax credits associated with building renewable facilities, requiring a third-party to own the facility. Additionally, CIPCO sells the Renewable Energy Certificates (RECs) associated with the wind and solar facilities and uses the revenue to lower its prices to its members even further.

“We’ve really taken renewables on in earnest because it’s been very cost-effective,” says Bill. However, he adds, renewables aren’t always available on-demand, sometimes delivering only half of their full capacity. “It takes a long time to build capacity to deliver enough energy even when it’s dark and cold, but the renewable generation is essential to meeting peak needs.”

To expand its baseload capacity, CIPCO also recently built a natural gas generation plant, financed in part by long-time financial partner CoBank. Together, along with continuing to expand its renewable portfolio, the cooperative has strengthened its ability to meet its members’ power supply needs.

But CIPCO’s focus isn’t all internal – it also embraces the cooperative tenet of “Cooperation among Cooperatives,” and like many in the cooperative energy sector, stands ready to assist other cooperatives when disaster strikes…and accepts help when needed. In 2020, a serious storm destroyed many of its transmission lines that ultimately took two weeks to fully restore.

“Three G&T cooperatives showed up without hesitation to help us, and their teams worked non-stop for weeks,” says Bill. “When it comes to real need and support, when we in the cooperative power and electricity space see an emergency situation, we all jump in and help how we can.”