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CEDAR FALLS — Five weeks remain until spring, but a garden is already taking shape in western Cedar Falls.

It’s a garden of solar panels being constructed by Cedar Falls Utilities as part of its Simple Solar project for customers.

The solar array is being built on land near Prairie Lakes Park.

Work began before the holiday season, and solar panels arrived for installation this month. The panels are expected to be operational this year.

“The project is on track to deliver test energy in February,” CFU general manager Jim Krieg said. “All of the racking steel is installed. All of the panels have been installed.” Electrical conduit work continues.

Approximately 1,250 electric customers, about 6 percent of CFU’s total customer base, are participating in the Simple Solar project. Customers could purchase solar “shares” at $399 each. Many sought more shares after the price dropped to $270 a share due to good customer response.

About a fourth of the customers are increasing the number of units they want, CFU officials said.

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About 75 additional customers who registered after an initial sign-up period are on a waiting list. But with those initial customers signing up for additional shares, CFU may sell all its shares before getting to the waiting list.

Participating customers range from homeowners to businesses to the University of Northern Iowa, which has committed to buying approximately 20 percent of the project.

Participants will receive a monthly bill credit for electricity generated at the garden. Officials estimate a subscription will be paid back within 15 years.

Because of the large degree of participation, CFU increased the size of its solar array to 1.5 megawatts.

CFU launched the project due to a confluence of factors, not least of which is a federal tax credit incentive set to expire in 2016 that will pay for up to 30 percent of the investment. The cost of solar panels also has dropped.

For more information, call 266-1761 or go to cfu.net.

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