By Roz Brown, Public News Service (IA)
Iowa's largest investor-owned utility wants to make owners of private solar power systems pay more for generating their own electricity, while opponents warn that could cause Iowa to lose its standing as a leader in promoting renewables.
House Study Bill 185 would add a yearly "sunshine tax" on private solar generators, a move MidAmerican Energy says creates more fairness for all customers who use its electric grid.
But Lee Tesdell, who has solar installed at his farm near Slater, says if the bill passes, the potential savings from solar would be greatly reduced, discouraging Iowans from using it.
"Here in rural Iowa and the upper Midwest, we need to really incentivize rural people to not only farm sustainably, but also 'farm the sun,'” he stresses. “I mean, that's a great resource that we have here."
Iowa's current net-metering policy allows customers with solar panels to be compensated for the excess energy they put back onto the grid, often during peak times when demand and rates are highest.
Katie Rock, a policy associate with the Center for Rural Affairs, says Iowa should be creating more jobs for solar designers, installers and electricians – not passing what she sees as regressive legislation.
"We've long been a leader in renewable energy and we take a lot of pride in that,” she states. “But in the past five or 10 years, we're actually falling behind our neighbors, especially Minnesota and Illinois. And so, to make a step like this is really discouraging."
Tesdell maintains utility companies are using deceptive advertising to paint people with solar installations as freeloaders, pitting them against their neighbors.
"They're trying to make other customers who don't have solar jealous of us somehow,” he states. “In my case, it's just not true – I'm not a freeloader. I'm paying my fair share."
The Center for Rural Affairs estimates the legislation would increase the payback period for customers who install solar panels from the current 12 to 15 years, to 20 to 26 years, reducing the incentive for farms and individuals to produce their own electricity.
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