Grinnell College Plugs into 16th Ave Solar Array, Marking Historic Environmental Milestone

Thee Grinnell College Solar farm, the largest privately owed solar farm in the state of Iowa May 19, 2022. (Photo by Justin Hayworth/Grinnell College)

College now home to the largest private solar installation in Iowa


GRINNELL, Iowa — A large solar array north of the Grinnell College Golf Course is live, providing the College with four megawatts of power — approximately one third of the campus’ total energy needs. It is the largest private solar installation in Iowa.


The Grinnell College Board of Trustees are thrilled to announce the completion of the solar array, celebrating this significant stride towards a more responsibly and sustainably operated campus, and affirming its commitment to fostering a greener and more sustainable future for generations to come.


The Board of Trustees first appointed the Fossil Fuels and Climate Impact Task Force in April 2017 to examine ways in which Grinnell College can have a positive impact on the critical global issue of climate change. This task force was created in response to students bringing forth concerns about fossil fuels. The task force presented recommendations to the full board the following year, prompting the creation of a standing campus Sustainability Committee, the application of environmental and social criteria in the management of the College’s endowment, and significant actions on campus to reduce our institutional carbon footprint.


The College adopted its formal Sustainability Plan in 2018 as a living blueprint to increase our environmental sustainability and move toward our goal of net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2040.


Board of Trustees Chair Michael Kahn ’74, shares, “The solar array is a true milestone in Grinnell’s progress toward net-zero emissions.  Addressing the College’s energy needs through renewable sources is an ongoing process, but this notable progress is one we can be proud of.”


Grinnell College is home to six smaller solar installations, says Chris Bair ‘96, Grinnell College environmental and safety manager, but nothing that nears the scale of this new array. A single megawatt is enough energy to power 750 houses at once. The array will provide four times that power, radically decreasing the College’s reliance on fossil fuels.


The powering on of the 16th Ave solar array coincides with the announcement of an exciting city-wide solar project. Alliant Energy has partnered with several community partners to build a second large solar array west of town. When completed, the array will provide the College with two additional megawatts of power, bringing campus energy consumption to over 50% renewably sourced. This collaborative effort underscores Grinnell’s pivotal role in fostering regional sustainability initiatives.


The latest Grinnell College Strategic Plan, Knowledge into Action, emphasizes a deepened commitment to environmental stewardship. The ongoing transition to solar energy is a robust step forward in the direction of this stewardship and is the product of years of effort by the College’s Sustainability Committee.


Grinnell College President Anne F. Harris shared, “Shared Goals and Common Ground are a central pillar of the Strategic Plan. As we continue to foster a culture of collaboration and partnership, Grinnell College is recognized as a trusted partner and a place for coalition building. Our commitment to sustainability is demonstrated through our campus planning, institutional policies, and external partnerships, reflecting a deepened stewardship of our environment and a dedication to the common good.”


Not only does the solar project embody Grinnell’s ongoing commitment to mitigating social and environmental harm, for the time being it will also result in energy cost savings. “Sustainability is our ultimate goal with this array. The fact that we’re also saving is a welcome bonus,” says Bair.


Constructed several years ago, the array consists of single axis tracker solar panels which rotate East to West to follow the sun’s movement across the sky and maximize their energy absorption. The panels not only collect sunlight on their upper faces, but they can also absorb light reflected off the ground by snow and water — thereby taking advantage of heavy Iowa snowfall.


The array is owned by Sunlight General Capital LLC, a third-party developer. Per a twenty-year contract with up to ten years of extensions, Grinnell College purchases all the energy produced by the array.




The college extends gratitude to the dedicated individuals who contributed their time and expertise to these important initiatives:


Our sincere thanks for the leadership demonstrated by the 2017 Board of Trustees Chair Patricia Jipp Finkelman ’80. It was her action, after thoughtful consultation with the board’s Executive Committee, that led to the establishment of a task force during the April 2018 board meeting. Chairing this task force was Michael Kahn ’74, supported by now retired trustees Kathryn Jagow Mohrman ’67 and Ed Senn ’79.


Our appreciation goes to Liz Queathem and Chris Bair ’96, co-chairs of the Grinnell College Sustainability Planning Committee. We acknowledge the numerous individuals who have served on this committee since 2018, each playing a vital role in shaping our sustainability initiatives.


Thank you to the Advisory Committee members: Chair Wayne Moyer, Sayles Kasten ’19, Lucia Nelson ’20, Zach Steckel ’18, Summer White ’18, Kent Messer ’94, Jessica Roff ’93, Jim Swartz, and Sarah Smith. And thank you to Rick Whitney and Corey Hammond for their significant contributions in Facilities Management.