Advisory: US Department of Energy selects ISU-led project to build rural Iowa’s first ‘microgrid’

A line truck from Montezuma Municipal Light & Power

A new Department of Energy grant will help create the first "microgrid" in rural Iowa, transforming the generation and distribution of electricity in Montezuma, Iowa. Larger photo. Photo courtesy of Montezuma Municipal Light & Power.

The announcement:

U.S. Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm announced today that a project led by Iowa State University researchers has been selected for award negotiations with the goal of building the first “microgrid” in a rural Iowa community.

The proposal submitted by Iowa State researchers and Montezuma Municipal Light & Power called for a federal investment of roughly $9.5 million and a local cost-share of $2.4 million from university and Montezuma sources. That $11.9 million investment would provide Montezuma with a microgrid, a small-scale electricity network that can operate as an independent system or can be connected to the larger grid.

Secretary of Energy Granholm also announced other regional projects in the East, Midwest, West and Alaska. All 17 projects are 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.

Read the Department of Energy’s announcement.


The project:

The proposal would transform the generation and distribution of electricity in Montezuma, a town of about 1,400 residents 70 miles east of Des Moines. The project will create a utility-scale microgrid to provide reliable, resilient and affordable electricity. The new system would feature power generation from solar panels and a battery storage system.

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

Project leaders say the new microgrid would provide electricity to local communities, Poweshiek County offices, small businesses and manufacturers. The system would produce 3 megawatts of renewable energy, reduce energy purchases by 3.5 gigawatt hours and reduce transmission costs by 34%. They expect the project will take about four years to complete.


Statements from project leaders:

Zhaoyu Wang, a Northrop Grumman associate professor of electrical and computer engineering at Iowa State who’s affiliated with the university’s Electric Power Research Center and is the project leader:

“This project will make the entire town of Montezuma the very first utility-scale microgrid in Iowa with the best reliability and resilience. The Montezuma microgrid will revolutionize and modernize the Montezuma Municipal Light and Power system by integrating smart grid technologies. It will be a model for other rural utilities.

“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.

“This is so much more than an R&D project because it will directly benefit more than 1,400 Montezuma residents and generate significant impacts on surrounding counties. It shows Iowa State University is working to bring real benefits to Iowans and boost local economies.”


Anne Kimber, the director of the Electric Power Research Center and a co-leader of the project:

“Montezuma is a rural county seat and a manufacturing and farming community, so people depend on it for city and county services, schools, health care, shopping, and employment. During the 2020 derecho, Montezuma was able to keep the lights on by running its existing diesel generation fleet, which kept essential services available to the surrounding area.

“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. 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.”


Kevin Kudart, the superintendent of Montezuma Municipal Light & Power:

“This is a huge benefit for our customers and for local economic development because it provides long-term rate stability from the solar and the battery energy storage systems. Our reliability will increase with the new, more modern switchgear, and our outage time will be reduced by having new controls. And we’ll promote good customer relations by providing vehicle charging stations.”


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