The Microgrid system aims to improve energy reliability for the Iowa community

(Editor’s note: This article first appeared in Volume 15, Issue 2 of Community is important now.)

With a $9.48 million grant from the Energy Improvement in Rural or Remote Areas (ERA) program, Montezuma, a city of 1,400 residents, is paving the way for rural communities and serving as a model for the future of local energy systems in Iowa.

The Montezuma microgrid project, a partnership between Iowa State University and community utility Montezuma Municipal Light & Power, will install a small-scale energy system that can disconnect from the main grid to operate independently even if the larger grid fails. The microgrid will use 2.5 megawatt solar panels and 1.5 megawatt-hour battery storage systems to power 706 residential homes, 201 commercial buildings and two industrial facilities.

The goal of the ERA program is to improve the reliability, resilience and affordability of energy systems in communities with 10,000 or fewer people. The program was created with $1 billion in funding from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law.

“This project is one of the first renewable microgrids used daily by the community and residents,” said Zhaoyu Wang, Northrop Grumman associate professor at Iowa State University and project leader. “Montezuma can use this to attract new businesses, talent and residents to move to Montezuma because of the various benefits that the microgrid brings, and all electricity is powered by the microgrid.”

The addition of a microgrid will provide the city of Montezuma with resilient, reliable and affordable electricity while reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Replacing aging substations, load monitoring and control systems is expected to reduce energy costs by approximately 18%, reducing costs for Montezuma Municipal Light & Power by an estimated $200,000 per year.

With greater reliability, Zhaoyu says, Montezuma will significantly reduce operating time and dependence on fossil fuels, while increasing resilience to extreme weather events such as the 2020 derecho.

The grant funding will also be used to purchase two electric vehicle charging stations, a new addition to the community, and to develop workforce training programs.

The partnership with Iowa State University, several community colleges and the Muskoka Nation, the only tribal nation in Iowa, to develop a microgrid training program ensures the project’s impact extends beyond the Montezuma area.

Zhaoyu said students will be trained to build new renewable microgrids in other communities, using digital twin technology that allows students to visualize and interact with the microgrid’s operation in real time.

With some communities and utilities hesitant to invest in renewable microgrids due to financial feasibility, officials at the Montezuma renewable microgrid project want to prove that such investments can be financially viable, in addition to providing affordable electricity, increased reliability and resiliency.

More than 40 community groups – including trade unions; veteran, minority and women-owned businesses; community colleges; and Iowa state and local governments have backed the project with letters of support.

“We want to show other communities that this is financially feasible and sustainable,” Zhaoyu said, adding that he hopes other rural communities will see the benefits and success of the Montezuma microgrid and seek financing to invest in their own sustainable microgrid projects.

On the Upside is a series about how to take care of the planet.

On the Upside is a series about how to take care of the planet.