The Iowa ‘sunshine tax’: What you need to know


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The “Solar Options Lead to Affordable Renewables (SOLAR) Act” may not be so sunny (Wikimedia Commons).

Julia Poska | February 28, 2019

The so-called “sunshine tax” might have a bright and cheery name, but the proposed fee could put a real damper on private solar power in Iowa.

Described in House Study Bill 185 and Senate Study Bill 1201, the “Solar Options Lead to Affordable Renewables (SOLAR) Act” would impose an over $300 annual fee on solar customers — property owners with small-scale solar panel setups who sell excess power back to the grid. The fee would cover the cost of using the electric grid and support Iowa’s energy infrastructure.

Currently, such customers can expect to pay off the high initial cost of solar panel installation in less than 10 years through savings on energy bills and sales of excess power. Cedar Rapids City Councilman Tyler Olson told the designated House subcommittee the fee would extend that period to as much as 20 years, as reported in the Gazette. This would greatly discourage private individuals from investing in home setups, which typically last about 25 years.

Supporters of the fee, including major Iowa utilities like MidAmerican and Alliant Energy, say it is unfair that customers who do not generate their own power absorb the cost of maintaining power infrastructure that is used by solar generators.

“Growth is possible when policies allow all customers to benefit from renewable energy,”  MidAmerican Energy’s president and CEO said in a press release. “Common sense legislation focused on keeping costs low and affordable for everyone provides the best opportunity to grow solar in Iowa.”

Opponents say the fee would only allow solar to grow for large corporations, however, and that it would kill the future of Iowa’s growing solar industry, which largely develops and installs systems for private homes, businesses and farms.

On Tuesday, the Gazette reported that the the bill would soon move forward in the Iowa House, to the full House Commerce Committee. Yesterday, the Iowa Senate held a hearing on their version of the bill, and did the same. There is a push among some legislators to delay the conversation until the Iowa Utilities Board finishes an assessment of compensation for solar energy producers next year.

 

Iowa solar employment is on the rise


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Most solar jobs are in installation and project development (flickr).

Julia Poska | February 14, 2019

Despite a 3.2 percent drop in solar energy jobs nationwide, solar jobs in Iowa grew 4 percent in 2018, according to the recently released National Solar Jobs Census.

Various solar projects recent years likely contributed to job growth in Iowa. In 2017, Alliant Energy built Iowa’s biggest solar farm on 21 acres near Dubuque, but the Central Iowa Power Cooperative recently announced plans to surpass that record with an 800 acre solar farm in Louisa County in 2020. Solarize Johnson and Linn Counties brought a combined 1,760 kilowatts of residential solar power to eastern Iowa in 2017 and 2018. Ideal Energy in Fairfield is currently building a solar array with special battery storage at Maharishi University of Management as well.

But still, only 844 Iowans are employed in solar. The state ranks 45 in solar jobs per capita despite 2018 growth, according to the census, which is conducted annually by the Solar Foundation.

Overall, U.S. solar employment has risen 159 percent since 2010 and is projected to continue growing. The price of solar installation has fallen dramatically, too. At the utility scale, the cost of a one Watt segment of a solar panel dropped from $4.40 in 2010 to $1.03 in 2018. For residential panels, the cost dropped from $6.65 to $2.89 per Watt.

 

 

 

Iowa’s largest solar project announced for 2019


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The project might look something like this solar farm in Germany (flickr). 

Julia Poska| December 20, 2018

The new year will be a big one for solar power in Iowa. The Central Iowa Power Cooperative (CIPCO) recently announced plans to start construction on a 100-megawatt solar farm on 800 acres in Louisa County at the end of 2019. This would be Iowa’s largest solar project to date, and will likely be completed at the end of 2020.

An Idaho company called Clēnera (pronounced clean-era) will develop and operate the farm, to be named Wapello Solar. According to conversions from Clēnera’s website, clean energy generated by Wapello Solar could offset carbon emissions equivalent to driving 8.8 billion miles or 8.5 million barrels of oil over 20 years.

CIPCO will purchase 100 percent of energy produced and share it among cooperative members, including the Eastern Iowa Light & Power Cooperative, which serves the construction area.  Some of this energy will offset the loss of the the Duane Arnold Energy Center nuclear plant in Palo, Iowa, of which CIPCO owned a 20 percent share and derived 20 percent of its generating capacity.

 

 

 

On The Radio- Adapting to the inevitability of climate change


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Oil Capital in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada (flickr/Wolfgang Schlegl)

Kasey Dresser| December 17, 2018

This weeks segment looks at methods to adapt to climate change laid out in the Fourth National Climate Assessment. 

Transcript:

Adaptation is crucial for dealing with climate change, but it is not always done well. 

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus. 

Even if greenhouse gas emissions stopped immediately, the Earth would still face decades of warming from gases already in the air. The Fourth National Climate Assessment discusses effective strategies for adapting to inevitable climate change. Here are three key things for communities to consider. 

ONE- Proactive planning works better than reacting to issues as they arise. Projections for an area’s future, which may differ greatly from present conditions, can help inform approaches.  

TWO- Dramatic issues like sea level rise and heat waves are certainly scary, but vulnerable communities cannot focus all their resources on adapting to one hazard.  It is important to consider a breadth of potential impacts and implement a range of strategies. 

THREE- Risk communication can keep residents informed, influence the decisions they make today,  and help them prepare for the future. It is important to communicate about what is anticipated every step of the way. 

For more information about climate change adaptation, visit iowa-environmental-focus-dot-org.

From the UI Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research, I’m Sara E. Mason.

On The Radio- Benefits of passive building design


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Green roof (picture taken off the Sears Tower in Chicago, IL)

Kasey Dresser| December 3, 2018

This weeks segment looks at how implementing passive design can improve energy efficiency. 

Passive design can improve energy efficiency on a warming planet.

As climate change heats up Iowa, how will people stay cool without increasing energy demand? The answer may lie in something called passive design. 

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus. 

Scientists project Iowa heatwaves to become, on average, 7 degrees hotter by mid-century, according the 4th U.S. National Climate Assessment.  About once per decade, a heatwave 13 degrees hotter may occur. 

In such events, people rely heavily on cooling systems. In many cases, this means cranking up the air conditioning, and therefore increasing utility bills and our dependence on fossil fuels.

Passive design techniques include how the building is oriented, window placement, roofing material, tree shading and more. All help maintain comfortable temperatures year round by letting sunlight in and shading it out at the appropriate times.  Tightly sealed insulation minimizes the exchange of air with the outdoors.

Passively designed buildings reduce energy demand and are more comfortable environments to live and work in.

For more information, visit iowa-environmental-focus-dot-org.

From the UI Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research, I’m Sara E. Mason.

Iowa explores renewable energy storage


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Batteries can make solar arrays productive even after the sun goes down (flickr).

Julia Poska| November 8, 2018

Already a leader in wind energy, Iowa wants to expand its renewable energy portfolio even further. The Iowa Economic Development Authority granted $200,000 to Ideal Energy in Fairfield last month to study “solar plus” systems, solar arrays enhanced with energy storage capacity via batteries.

Without the addition of batteries, these solar grids would only supply power when the sun was shining. The batteries can supply power during outages and at night, and help “shave” energy bills by supplying energy at peak demand hours, when utility costs are highest.

Ideal Energy is currently building a large, 1.1 megawatt solar array with a 1.1 megawatt hour vanadium flow battery for the Maharishi University of Management in Fairfield. This is the largest solar plus project in the state of Iowa and will cover about a third of the university’s annual energy needs.

Ideal is also installing a somewhat smaller array with a lithium-ion battery at the Agri-Industrial Plastics Company in Fairfield. The battery will provide nighttime power for the company’s 24-hour production lines and save them an estimated $42,000 annually.

With the Iowa Economic Development Authority grant, Ideal will assess and compare the performance, efficiency and maintenance of both systems in partnership with Iowa State University’s Electric Power Research Center. A statewide committee, established by the 2016 Iowa Energy Plan, will evaluate the research to inform future solar plus projects in the state.

 

 

On The Radio- India hoping to open the first fully solar-powered airport


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The arrival gates at Cochin International Airport (Business Television India)

Kasey Dresser | October 29, 2018

This weeks segment looks at prospective plans for India to open the first fully solar-powered airport.

Transcript:

India is set to open the world’s first fully solar-powered airport.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

Cocin International Airport is the largest and busiest airport in India’s Kerala state. The transition from traditional electricity to solar power started in 2012, when the price of electricity jumped significantly.

Currently, the airport uses solar panels to generate more than twenty-nine point five megawatts of energy, enough to power the airport with surplus electricity even during the cloudy and rainy monsoon season.

The airport in Cocin is just one example of the growing influence solar power has on India. As much as 10% of expenses in airports come from the amount of electricity used, and implementing more renewable sources of power would help decrease both the carbon footprint and these expenses.

Solar power has been a growing industry in India for some time. The country recently proposed dramatically increasing their solar energy output, proposing to implement enough new panels to generate 100 gigawatts of power. There are some doubts about the ability to meet this goal as India still struggles with its infrastructure.

For more information, visit iowa-environmental-focus dot org.

From the UI Center for Global and Regional Environmental Focus, I’m Sara E Mason.