Huge solar farm planned for decommissioned Duane Arnold nuclear plant site

Source: By John Steppe, The Gazette • Posted: Thursday, March 18, 2021

NextEra Energy lays out plans for 3,500 acres surrounding Palo plant


The NextEra Energy Duane Arnold Energy Center is pictured April 8, 2019 in Palo. The nuclear plant, which was going to b
The NextEra Energy Duane Arnold Energy Center is pictured April 8, 2019 in Palo. The nuclear plant, which was going to be decommissioned by last October, closed early after being damaged in the Aug. 10, 2020, derecho. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)

For more than four decades, the name of former Cedar Rapids utility executive Duane Arnold has been synonymous with nuclear power in Iowa. Now it could have a new connotation: a massive solar energy project planned for 2023 near the now-idle Duane Arnold Energy Center.

Owner NextEra Energy of Florida this week laid out plans in a virtual meeting with nearby landowners to build a solar farm that could bring in a $700 million capital investment and about 300 construction jobs.

The solar farm is planned across 3,500 acres at and near the now-decommissioned nuclear plant in Palo, project manager Kimberly Dickey said in the Tuesday night meeting.

It is expected to produce up to 690 megawatts of solar energy — even more than the single-unit nuclear plant generated.

When Duane Arnold was operating, NextEra said, the 615-megawatt facility could generate enough electricity for 600,000 homes.

“We’re also hoping to accompany that solar project with up to 60 megawatts of AC-coupled batteries,” Dickey said.

Battery storage allows a company to store energy captured when customer demand is lower to use in peak times.

The solar project would create about $41.6 million in tax revenue and result in $50 million in payments to the landowners where it is built, according to Dickey and the NextEra website.

“The project, once built and operating, is going to offer immeasurable community benefits,” Dickey said.

NextEra will negotiate leases with landowners this summer and begin construction next winter. The company’s goal is to have the solar farm operational in 2023.

In a 2019 article, a Duane Arnold plant director told The Gazette that the facility, which employed nearly 600 people, no longer fit in Iowa’s energy portfolio that increasingly consisted of wind and solar.

The facility — Iowa’s only nuclear power plant, which began operating 45 years ago — was supposed to be decommissioned at the end of October 2020.

But “extensive” damage to the facility from the Aug. 10, 2020, derecho forced NextEra to shut it down early.

“After conducting a complete assessment of the damage caused by recent severe weather, NextEra Energy Resources has made the decision not to restart the reactor,” spokesman Peter Robbins told The Gazette in August.

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