Ideal Energy is installing one of the largest privately owned solar arrays in Iowa at Schaus-Vorhies Manufacturing location on Ninth Street in Fairfield, Iowa.
The half-megawatt project is installed where the Iowa Malleable Iron foundry once stood. Considered a toxic site in the 1990s, this restored brownfield is now being repurposed as a sustainable energy source for one of Fairfield’s leading businesses.
Thanks to a new solar energy installation currently under construction Schaus-Vorhies Manufacturing (SVM) will soon get much of its power from the Sun. Located at the site of the old Iowa Malleable Iron Company foundry, this 500 kilowatt (kW) array will power SVM’s manufacturing division.
One of the largest privately-owned solar installations in Iowa, the $1.2 million project will generate over 650,000 kilowatt hours per year. Within seven years, this project will pay for itself. During the next 25 years it will prevent 10,587 metric tons of CO2 from entering the atmosphere, equivalent to about 11 million pounds of coal or 25 million miles driven in a typical passenger car.
Ideal Energy designed and built the array using 1,470 Suniva photovoltaic panels connected with 15 SolarEdge inverters. The panels were attached to custom-built racking on ballasted ground mounts. Ballast was a better option than rammed posts because of the brownfield underneath. Although the brownfield was cleared of toxic chemicals by the EPA, it was nevertheless not an ideal surface for rammed posts. Building with concrete ballast allowed Ideal Energy to quickly construct racking mounts and assemble the solar field in just a few weeks.
SOLAR IS A LOW-RISK INVESTMENT
Roger Vorhies, Vice-President of Schaus-Vorhies Manufacturing, said the company decided to adopt solar power after examining the projected savings. “The reason this was an easy decision for us to make on a $1.2 million investment was because of the very limited risk,” Vorhies added.
The array will save SVM an average of around $113,000 per year in utility costs. Vorhies explained that high risk and significant capital investment are usually required to achieve an equivalent increase in revenue, which could entail developing new products, bidding larger jobs, or investing in more equipment. In contrast, using solar power provides a predictable return on investment with very low risk.
For SVM the decision to invest in solar power was made even easier due to the availability of federal tax credits, Iowa tax credits, and the accelerated depreciation that’s permitted for solar projects. Guiding clients through these incentive programs is one of Ideal Energy’s specialties.
“The reason this was an easy decision for us to make on a $1.2 million investment was because of the very limited risk.”
The Schaus-Vorhies Companies group has a long history of community-oriented and sustainability-focused projects. Some of the business’s past projects include the Fairfield Arts and Convention Center, the Pilot Grove Savings Bank, contributions to the Jefferson County Loop Trail system and the restoration of the clock tower atop the Jefferson County Courthouse.
They also built Cambridge Investment Research’s offices, which are LEED Silver certified by the U.S. Green Building Council. The buildings feature geothermal heating and cooling, low flow fixtures, natural lighting, and low VOC paint and carpet. The parking lot has a reflective surface that reduces the heat island effect.
SVM has also donated the use of its land, power, and water for an insulated greenhouse as part of the Iowa Department of Agriculture’s Farm-to-School Program. The greenhouse is filled with certified-organic topsoil. It’s warmed by the sand beds at Schaus-Vorhies Kleaning – part of SVM – via a reverse-geothermal system.
Once an essential part of Fairfield’s industrial economy, the Iowa Malleable Iron Company made iron castings for farm equipment manufacturers. It provided castings to the Louden Machinery Company in Fairfield and to Dain Manufacturing in Ottumwa, which is now part of John Deere. Iowa Malleable filed for bankruptcy in 1992 and was abandoned shortly thereafter.
The Iowa Malleable facility was considered a toxic waste site in the 1990s. After a vandalism-related fuel oil spill in 1995, the EPA commenced emergency cleanup operations there, removing over 800 tons of PCB-contaminated soil, 60,000 gallons of fuel oil, and several hundred square feet of asbestos insulation and tile. After testing proved the site to be safe from contaminants, the Fairfield Economic Development Association took over ownership and demolished most of the buildings.
Several years later Schaus-Vorhies Manufacturing purchased the land and remaining buildings. SVM continued the restoration of the brownfield by grading it and covering it with a layer of compacted gravel. The final step of the restoration is giving it a new purpose: providing sustainable, clean energy via solar power.