Iowa legislators to consider solar energy incentives

Photo from the 2009 Solar Decathlon in Washington DC. Credit: F. Delventhal, Flickr.

A bill introduced in Des Moines today would provide incentives to Iowans who, following the lead of early-2000’s Sheryl Crow, would like to “soak up the sun” (to generate energy).

The bill, SF 99, would establish a state solar and small wind energy rebate program and fund that would offer financial incentives for Iowans to install solar hot water and photovoltaic systems in the commercial, agriculture and residential sectors.

“Solar energy could be the next new engine of job creation for Iowans, provided we seize the opportunities in front of us,” said Sen. Joe Bolkcom, D-Iowa City and CGRER’s director of outreach and community education, the bill’s sponsor. “Growth in the solar industry means good paying jobs for many people in our local communities: electricians, builders, plumbers, contractors, engineers, technicians and salespeople.”

Sen. Joe Bolkcom, D-Iowa City

Last summer Bolkcom saw firsthand the potential effects of solar incentives as he biked through Slovenia, a county that generates much of its energy from the sun. There, the price of solar panels is dropping by nine percent each year, and some Slovenians expect the cost to be competitive with traditional energy sources within five years.

Under SF 99, rebates in Iowa would be as high as 30 percent of a system’s installation cost and no more than $15,000 for someone in the commercial or agricultural sector, or $3,000 for Iowans in residential buildings.

The bill would require a $10 million annual deposited into the program.

Iowa doesn’t generate much solar energy today. Its photovoltaic industry consists of a few companies scattered across the state. Projects include a charging station for electric cars nearing completion at the University of Iowa, a hybrid wind-solar station at the University of Northern Iowa and rural electric projects in towns like Kalona.

Iowa is now the second leading producer of wind energy in the country, but about 72 percent of its energy still comes from coal-fire plants that are often outmoded, according an Iowa Physicians for Responsibility report.

Hawkeye football great-turned green entrepreneur Tim Dwight is among those championing a shift to solar energy in Iowa.

“If we incentivize solar today, I could go out and hire loads and loads of people,” he told IEF in January at the state capitol. If Iowa fails to incentivize, he added, “we’re going to be losing people to other states.”

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