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


Solar_panels_in_Češnjevek.jpg
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.

 

Proposed bill would tighten Iowa manure application laws


With over 60 million chickens, 20 million pigs, 9 million turkeys, and 4 million cows, Iowa farms and livestock operations produce large quantities of manure. (U.S. Department of Agriculture/Flickr)
With over 60 million chickens, 20 million pigs, 9 million turkeys, and 4 million cows, Iowa farms and livestock operations produce large quantities of manure each year. (U.S. Department of Agriculture/Flickr)

 

Nick Fetty | March 3, 2015

An Iowa Senate subcommittee has approved a bill it hopes will improve water quality by tightening manure application laws.

Sen. Joe Bolkcom (D-Iowa City) from the Natural Resources and Environment Subcommittee introduced the bill last month. If passed, the bill would bar farmers from applying fertilizer when (1) the ground is frozen or snow-covered; (2) the ground is water-saturated; (3) the 24-hour weather forecast calls for a half-inch of rain or more; or (4) the ground is sloped at 20 percent or greater. The currently law – which was added to the Iowa Code in 2010 – states that farmers cannot apply fertilizer to their soil between December 21 and April 1.

The proposed bill is also supported by the non-profit Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement. ICCI organizer Jess Mazour believes the proposed bill will be more effective at cleaning up Iowa’s waterways compared to the current voluntary system.

“It is very much needed because voluntary compliance is not working,” Mazour said in an interview with WNAX. “And if we just leave it up to farmers to pick and choose what they think is safe it’s showing us that our water is just going to keep getting dirtier. We have to be very specific about what we want.”

An identical bill was also introduced to the Iowa House by Rep. Dan Kelly (D-Newton). These proposals come on the heels of a recent measure drafted by the Iowa Department of Natural Resources and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency which allows the DNR to inspect manure-handling practices by farmers and to issue fines for those not in compliance with current codes.

Approximately 76 manure spills were reported in 2013. In 2014, a dairy farm was fined $160,000 after improper manure disposal killed hundreds of thousands of fish.

New UI course combines environment and politics


Nick Fetty | May 22, 2014
Image
Photo via UI Office of Sustainability

A recently introduced course at the University of Iowa teaches students about the interactions between environmental issues and politics.

The course – Iowa Environmental Policy in Practice – was offered last spring through the Department of Geological and Sustainability Sciences which is in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. Students in the course spent their spring breaks in Des Moines “meeting with legislation from both the House and Senate, policy makers, and environmental groups.” Just some of the local environmental issues covered in the class included alternative energy methods, energy conservation and efficiency, water quality, and fracking. 

Read the full story in Iowa Now.

Taxes for the environment


Photo by Teresa Meadows; Flickr.
Photo by Teresa Meadows; Flickr.

The Iowa Public Radio released a segment yesterday about an upcoming bill that’s “a dream come true” for environmentalists and natural resource advocates.

The bill raises the state sales tax for a natural resource trust fund that was approved two years ago.

The amendment says that any time Iowa raises its sales tax, a portion of the penny of it should go toward natural resources.

If it passes, the sales taxes devoted to the trust fund would be raised to over a third of a cent over the next three years, and will be utilized for conservation, recreation, and water quality in the state.

Listen to the full story here.

 

Governor Branstad hails Iowa’s solar energy progress


Solar energy panels at the Iowa State Fair;  Photo by vanhookc, Flickr.
Solar energy panels at the Iowa State Fair;
Photo by vanhookc, Flickr.

During Iowa Solar Day, an annual event sponsored by Iowa’s Solar Energy Trade Association (ISETA), Governor Terry Branstad and Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey, said because Iowa is a leader in wind energy, we can use the same road map to become a leader in solar energy as well.

“I see tremendous potential for growth in solar energy as I do in other renewable energy items in our state,” Gov. Branstad said.

Northey expressed support of expanding Iowa’s solar energy tax credit and on March 27, 2014, the bill to triple the tax credit passed unanimously in the Iowa Senate.

Increasing Iowa’s solar energy is an important aspect of boosting the state’s overall use of clean energy, however Iowa has only tapped a small portion of the potential solar energy in the state.

To read the full story, visit the Iowa Environmental Council.

Iowa Senate panel approves solar energy tax credit boost


Photo by marshlight; Flickr

A bill that increases available state money to encourage installation of solar power systems in Iowa has passed a Senate committee and moves forward to the full Senate. Continue reading

Bill boosting solar energy development gets OK from Iowa Senate panel


Solar Panels at Regions Bank in Waterloo, Iowa.  Photo courtesy of Paul McClure; Flickr.
Solar Panels at Regions Bank in Waterloo, Iowa.
Photo courtesy of Paul McClure; Flickr.

Under this bill, Iowa’s investor-owned electrical utilities would be required to provide their customers with 105 megawatts of solar energy.

The bill is aimed at bolstering Iowa’s solar energy industry, the Des Moines Register reported. 

Tim Dwight, the president of the Iowa Solar/Small Wind Energy Trade Association, said the cost of solar energy is dropping on a monthly basis and is becoming a mainstream method of generating electricity.

Head to the Register to find out more.