Iowa legislators have reached a compromise on last year’s controversial “Sunshine Tax” bill. The Iowa Capital Dispatch reported Friday that both legislative chambers have unanimously approved bill versions of the“Solar Act,” which are awaiting Gov. Reynolds’ approval.
According to the dispatch, the act would allow owners of home, business or farm solar arrays to continue selling excess energy to utility companies at the retail rate. Last spring, a controversial bill proposed an extra $300 annual fee for solar customers who sell excess energy, meant to cover the cost of using the electric grid. Critics said the fee would make it much harder for private owners to pay off their investment into solar, essentially killing the largely private solar industry in Iowa.
The new version also orders an independent cost-benefit analysis of solar power in Iowa, meant to make sure all parties pay their fair share. Following the study, the Iowa Utilities Board would make a recommendation for reasonable billing methods. Existing solar owners would be immune to recomended changes in billing methods.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.