For its first foray into solar energy, Central Iowa Power Cooperative (CIPCO) is going big: 5.5 MW by the end of 2016.

Calling it an “initial phase,” the Des Moines-based generation and transmission co-op (G&T) launched the project in late March. It’s the largest solar power project by a utility in Iowa to date.

“CIPCO is committed to providing environmentally friendly sources of energy to our members across the state,” says CEO Dennis Murdock. The co-op’s current energy mix is about 54 percent emissions-free, led predominately by nuclear power and wind energy.

Clarke Electric Cooperative, Consumers Energy, Eastern Iowa Light & Power, East-Central Iowa REC, Midland Power Cooperative, and Pella Cooperative Electric will host sections of the project, and all assets will be owned and operated by CIPCO.

“We’re proud to be a part of Iowa’s largest utility-scale solar operation with CIPCO,” says Bill McKim, CEO of Jefferson, Iowa-based Midland Power Cooperative. “Utilizing solar supports our commitment to providing environmentally responsible electric service to our members.”

Midland’s portion of the project will contain 2,106 solar panels and generate just under 1MW of solar power.

CIPCO has hired Azimuth Energy LLC of St. Louis to build the arrays. Additional phases of the project are under consideration by the CIPCO board of directors, said Kerry Koonce, the G&T’s manager of communications and public affairs.