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In Defense of Solar for Iowans

June 16, 2017

Utility companies are meant to serve their customers the same way politicians are meant to serve their constituents. Bill HF 652 and the recent adoption of new net-metering policies by the Iowa Utilities Board positions Iowa utilities and politicians firmly on one side of the line while a large number of Iowan residents stand on the other.

In 2016, Iowa had enough solar energy to power 2 million homes and enough wind production to power 20 million homes. In the last year alone, the solar industry employed 260,000 Americans nationwide, with 600 of those jobs located in our state scattered amongst 50 Iowa-based solar companies. In the last five years, the price of solar in Iowa declined 64%. The state is expected to install 223 megawatts of solar over the next five years, compared to just 39 megawatts installed since 2010.

Why has Iowa had such a productive past when it comes to renewable energy? In 1983, we became the first state to implement Renewable Portfolio Standards, which ensures that each year, the two investor-owned utility companies receive at least 105 MW of their electricity from renewable sources. Iowa’s reputation as a national leader of renewable energy policy and progress finds itself on shaky ground with the possible approval of HF 652 and the IUB’s adoption of a new net-metering policy.

Part of solar installation costs are defrayed by a tax credit received for investing in clean energy. HF 652 attempts to lower this solar investment tax credit. The state credit is meant to be a portion of the federal tax incentive for renewable energies. This proposed legislation would lower the annual cap from $5 million to $4 million, effectively reducing the applicable federal tax incentive from 50% to 40%. A 10% reduction in the tax credit cap will make it more difficult for homeowners to make solar power a financially viable, clean-energy option for their family.

Net-metering is one of the long-term benefits solar homeowners receive. When a home or business produces its own energy, the electricity is no longer pulled solely from the traditional energy grid, which effects what you pay to your local utility company. Net-metering allows customers to return some of the electricity they produce via renewable methods to the traditional grid, and receive a credit for doing so.

The Iowa Utilities Board recently approved a number of changes to Iowa’s net-metering policy as advocated for by Alliant Energy. One of the most concerning of these changes is that energy credits must now be cashed out at the end of the year. In the past, customers generating their own electricity could save those excess credits, which rolled over from year to year, and apply them to future bills. This credit rollover, put to rest by the new policy, is one of the most significant benefits to producing one’s own energy, and what makes residential solar a viable option for many families and business owners.

Iowans do not want solar energy to be priced out of their communities or state economy. These changes to Iowa’s policy and legislation will result in fewer families being able to afford solar, which will lead to fewer jobs for those Iowans employed by the solar industry. Bill HF 652 and the Iowa Utilities Board’s new net-metering policy must be respectfully reconsidered as they have destructive potential towards the many benefits Iowans receive as clean energy producers and consumers.

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