ISU research team, Montezuma utility selected to build rural Iowa’s first microgrid

The U.S. Department of Energy announced Monday that a project led by Iowa State University researchers and Montezuma Municipal Light & Power has been selected for award negotiations with the goal of building the first “microgrid” in a rural Iowa community.

A microgrid is a small-scale electricity network that can operate as an independent system or can be connected to the larger grid.

Iowa State and the Montezuma utility submitted a proposal requesting a federal investment of roughly $9.5 million and a local cost-share of $2.4 million from university and Montezuma sources for a total of $11.9 million, a news release said.

According to an Iowa State spokesperson, the negotiations for the total amount of the award from the Department of Energy could last six to nine months. The project’s leader, Iowa State professor Zhaoyu Wang, hopes to launch the project in late 2024 or early 2025. The project will take approximately four years to complete.

Establishing the microgrid will provide reliable and affordable electricity to local communities, Poweshiek County offices, small businesses and manufacturers. The new system would feature power generation from solar panels and a battery storage system.

“The microgrid will improve Montezuma by ensuring energy supplies for critical loads, controlling power quality and reliability at the local level and promoting customer participation through demand-side management and involvement in electricity supply,” Wang said in a prepared statement.

The project would also replace aging substations, load monitoring and control systems and provide the 1,400-person town with its first two electric vehicle chargers. It is expected to drop energy costs in Montezuma by 18% and reduce costs for Montezuma Municipal Light & Power by hundreds of thousands of dollars per year, according to estimates.

“This new microgrid will have immediate benefits for the community because it will provide a resilient power system with new technology that integrates renewable generation, and the project design can be replicated in other rural communities,” Anne Kimber, director of Iowa State’s Electric Power Research Center and a project co-leader, said in a prepared statement. “The digital twin of the Montezuma microgrid and the training curricula that we’ll develop and test with various partners – ranging from K-12 schools, the Meskwaki Nation, unions and community colleges – will build an energy workforce that can design, build and operate other resilient systems like this.”

Project partners also include Dennis Haselhoff from DGR Engineering based in Rock Rapids, Iowa, and Warren McKenna, an independent consultant based in Kalona, Iowa.

U.S. Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm announced 17 projects in total, which are all part of the Energy Improvements in Rural or Remote Areas program managed by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Clean Energy Demonstrations.