What Should Landowners Know About Solar Farm Development in Iowa?
As of November 2023, Iowa is a progressive state for solar farm activity and development. The number of solar farms in Iowa is projected to increase significantly over the next decade with the increase in project development from local interconnection queues and community solar programs. Iowa has implemented various incentives promoting renewable energy generation across the state which have ultimately increased the state’s solar awareness and utility-scale solar development. Many solar developers are actively planning new projects across the state. This presents a great opportunity for landowners to earn a steady stream of income from their land through solar lease payments, also known as solar payments.
Landowners in Iowa are receiving offers from developers to lease their land for solar farms. They often wonder how much their land is worth for a solar farm and if they are receiving a good offer. Leasing land for solar farms helps landowners provide their future generations with long-term financial stability. There are several factors that go into solar farm valuations that landowners and realtors should consider.
LandGate is a marketplace that provides data intelligence to landowners while also providing them the opportunity to connect with Iowa solar developers. In a traditional way, developers would knock on landowners' doors or cold-call them. This old-fashioned way is not easy for landowners. It can be perceived as unwanted solicitation at a time when the landowner is not ready and doesn’t have enough information to feel comfortable talking about a solar farm on their land.
LandGate provides useful data to landowners or to their agents to inform them for free about the value of their land for solar farm leasing. Equipped with more information, landowners can make good and fast decisions about pursuing a solar lease.
What is the Process for Leasing Land for a Solar Farm in Iowa?
Step 1: Solar Lease Negotiation Period in Iowa
The solar lease negotiation process is the first step landowners take when interested in having a solar farm on their property. Land professionals can assist landowners during this period to ensure they receive the best deal possible and understand the time between signing the lease and having an active solar farm on their land.
During the negotiations, landowners can negotiate solar lease payments, the length of the lease for the solar farm, and the percentage of the escalator to combat inflation.
Step 2: Solar Lease Option Agreement in Iowa
The next step is for the landowner to get a solar farm option agreement. At that point, the solar developer has done a preliminary study, also called a feasibility study, to know if the site is potentially suitable for solar farm development.
Why Can’t I Get a Solar Lease Agreement Directly?
The process of a solar farm project in Iowa begins with optioning the land, which is called “site control” by developers. The reason solar developers cannot go straight to a solar lease is that they have to evaluate the land thoroughly.
Typically the initial screening study is good enough that this first due diligence process is all that is needed. Another larger uncertainty for solar developers is to know if the solar project will be accepted by the utility on the electrical infrastructure (or electrical network). We refer to this phase as “utility’s application” in the graph above and developers refer to this phase as “queue submission”. This means that the solar project enters the interconnection queue of that region waiting for regulatory approval.
These queues are known as Independent Systems Operator (ISO) or Regional Transmission Organization (RTO).
During this period, the analysis of possible engineering and land factors is conducted to determine the feasibility of the project to be constructed and connected to the grid. This is the reason why the solar developer starts with an option, as not all solar projects are approved by the ISO/RTO.
How Likely Will My Iowa Solar Option Become a Solar Lease?
At the moment, about 20% of solar options become a solar lease and are built into a solar farm. Currently, the electrical infrastructure network is a big bottleneck. There are more applications of solar projects to get on transmission lines than available capacity.
However, governments are aware of this situation and are working to ease it, in order to foster more solar development. This means that it will likely get resolved in the next few years. The problem of available capacity applies only to utility-scale solar farm projects, which are typically greater than 5 MW capacity.
Where Can a Landowner Get More Information About the Solar Lease / Option Period in Iowa?
LandGate assists landowners with determining the value of their land for a solar farm. We do this by taking into account the proximity of substations, transmission lines, and state incentives - each of which plays a role in site control.
Am I Getting Paid During the Solar Option Period?
Yes. Solar payments start during the option period but are usually smaller compared to the solar payments during the lease or construction phase of the solar farm.
Step 3: Solar Lease Agreement in Iowa
Once the availability of grid capacity is confirmed, the solar project is moved to a “planned” phase. During this time, the developers will exercise the solar farm option agreement to become a solar farm lease agreement. Typically larger solar rent payments start at this time.
Step 4: Solar Farm Construction in Iowa
Solar payments are phased as the project progresses. It starts with small solar lease payments during the option phase. Then it increases during the solar lease phase, it increases again during the construction phase of the solar farm, and the largest solar payment occurs when the solar farm is active and generating electricity.
How Long Does It Take to Build a Solar Farm in Iowa?
Usually, it will take between 1 to 2 years to build a utility-scale solar farm. It takes less time to build a community solar farm since they are usually smaller in size.
Step 5: Active Solar Farm in Iowa
After the construction has been completed, the solar farm is now considered ‘active.’ For landowners, this phase is called ‘production,’ as it signifies that their land is currently producing energy for the electrical grid that it is interconnected with. The production phase lasts anywhere from 25 to 50 years depending on what was negotiated on the lease.
What Can a Solar Farm Power in Iowa?
In Iowa, the average solar farm size for active farms is 33.5 acres generating approximately 4.6 megawatts (MW) of electricity when operating under optimal conditions. This output has the potential to cater to the energy needs of around 3,381 households as the typical electricity consumption of an average household in Iowa stands at 11,916 kWh per year.
What is the Impact of the IRA and Other Factors in Iowa?
Iowa solar incentives have encouraged solar companies to develop more projects across the state. Additionally, favorable market conditions for electricity prices are encouraging investment into the solar sector in Iowa. Landowners and real estate agents should understand these incentives and market conditions to be prepared for potential offers for solar project deals.
Inflation Reduction Act: This bill was passed in 2022 and became effective at the beginning of 2023. It provides incentives to reduce renewable energy costs for organizations on a business, educational institution, and state level. More specifically, in Iowa, solar energy is eligible for a tax credit.
Net Metering: With net metering, consumers are allowed to get retail credit for the surplus electricity generated from local power systems that are sent back to the grid.
Upfront Solar Tax Incentive: In 2012, Iowa introduced an initial solar tax incentive, enjoying support from both political parties. Since its inception, this program has undergone three bipartisan expansions and enhancements. At present, the solar tax incentive can cover a maximum of 15% of a solar project's expenses. When combined with the federal investment tax credit, these two incentives can collectively cover as much as 45% of the total solar system costs. The credit limits, set at $5,000 for residential and $20,000 for business applications, promote numerous smaller-scale projects throughout the state.
Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS): Iowa became the first state in the nation to introduce an RPS goal in 1983. The requirements included allocating 105 MW to clean energy sources between the two most prominent electric utilities in the area at the time; MidAmerican Energy and Alliant Energy Interstate Power and Light (IPL). However, by 2011, this target had been reached and no updates had been made to its minimum requirements.
The combination of an increase in LMP pricing plus a slight increase in PPA pricing has made solar energy an attractive option for electricity generation in Iowa. LMP is a pricing method used in electricity markets to determine the cost of electricity at specific locations (called ‘nodes’) within the electrical grid.
A PPA (Power Purchase Agreement) is a contract between a renewable energy developer (such as a solar company) and a power purchaser (such as a utility). Over the last three years, Iowa experienced a 9.3% increase in PPA pricing and an average price LMP price increase of 33.6% (this is expected to increase by an additional 6.3% in 2024).
In the context of solar energy projects in Iowa, the relationship between LMP and PPA pricing lies in how the PPA sets the pricing terms for the electricity being sold. The fixed price in the PPA provides certainty to the solar developer about the revenue they will receive for the electricity that they produce.
Meanwhile, the LMP serves as the market price for electricity at a specific node. When the LMP at a particular node in the grid is higher than the contract price specified in the PPA, it benefits the solar company, as they will receive the contract price and sell the electricity at a higher market price (increasing their revenues). This combination has aided in the rise of solar projects in Iowa.
Commercial, Community, & Behind-the-Meter Iowa Solar Farms
Typically, landowners and land professionals think of solar farms as huge plots of land covered in solar panels out in the middle of nowhere. However, this usually is not the case! In Iowa, solar farms are typically 33.5 acres, allowing about 4.6 MW of electricity to be produced under ideal conditions.
Commercial solar projects are the largest energy projects being about 40+ acres of land. These solar farms usually feed their energy into the grid to the surrounding area. Realistically these solar farms can be any size as it depends on the capacity available within the grid.
Community solar farms in Iowa serve energy customers directly within the same area or community. These solar farms tend to be smaller in size in relation to acreage and megawatts. Community solar is different from residential solar as residential solar panels are found on top of rooftops. Community solar projects can be larger, it just depends on the location.
Commercial, residential, and industrial solar farms are all considered to be behind-the-meter solar farms. Behind-the-meter means that they are intended to generate power primarily for on-site consumption rather than selling it to the grid. Community solar and utility-scale solar farms generate energy that is utilized in the grid to send it to all consumers a part of that grid. This means that they are front-of-the-meter solar farms.
Discover Land’s Value For Solar Leasing in Iowa
The solar energy industries within Iowa are growing to achieve energy goals for clean energy development. This makes it easier for landowners and real estate agents to participate in solar development deals. Landowners in Iowa can receive a free solar leasing estimate by identifying and claiming ownership of their parcel on our map.
Realtors can assist their clients in learning about their property’s potential for solar energy by using LandGate. Land professionals can utilize LandGate’s data and analytics to provide their clients with information about their resource’s potential.