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.

 

Linn County solar energy group buy far exceeds expectations


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Solar installations will be provided by Moxie Solar, founded in 2008 and based in North Liberty, Iowa. (growsolar.org)
Jenna Ladd | October 19, 2017

Homeowners in Linn County were encouraged to combine their buying power to significantly reduce the cost of installing solar panels this summer through the Solarize Cedar Rapids and Linn County initiative.

Organized by the City of Cedar Rapids, Linn County, The Nature Conservancy, Indian Creek Nature Center, Iowa 350 and the Midwest Renewable Energy Association (MREA), participants were offered a significant per Watt (W) discount each time the volume of buyers surpassed program tiers. The base price for participants was $2.45/W. All participants received a $0.05/W discount each time the group buy reached one of four milestones: 50 kilowatts (kW), 150 kW, 250 kW, and 350 kW.

The program offered a total of 23 educational sessions, or Solar Power Hours, for interested parties to learn more about the evolving solar industry and this initiative.

Amy Drahos is a Senior Air Quality Scientist at Linn County Public Health. She said in a recent press release, “The community support for the Solarize program has been incredible. Nearly 500 people attended a Solar Power Hour or requested more information about the program, with 105 households deciding to install solar. This program was a success thanks to the enthusiastic response from Linn County citizens and the dedicated community partners who recognize the benefits of solar energy.”

In the end, 105 households signed up to install solar panel systems, and the initiative nearly double its highest goal of 350 kW, installing a total of 611 kW. The large group buy means that participants will receive a rebate of $200 per kilowatt installed, or an average of $1,164 per household.

Cedar Rapids Sustainability Coordinator, Eric Holthaus, commented on the city’s role in the program, “The City served as an educational partner in this program.  Solar technology ten years ago is not the same as solar today.  We enjoyed helping residents become informed on this energy option, and it looks like many were excited to take a step toward cleaner energy and lower utility bills.”

The Solarize Cedar Rapids and Linn County initiative also provides a substantial environmental payoff. It is estimated that program participants will generate a combined total of nearly 700,000 kWh of clean solar energy annually. MREA reports that 927,000 pounds of carbon dioxide and 14 million gallons of water will be offset by this initiative during the first year alone.

The MREA has implemented this program in several other parts of the Midwest including Milwaukee, Wisconsin and Urbana-Champaign and Bloomington-Normal, Illinois. However, “The Solarize Cedar Rapids and Linn County program contributed the highest kW contracted to date,” according to MREA Executive Director, Nick Hylla. He added, “There is obviously a tremendous amount of interest in solar energy in eastern Iowa.”

The program wrapped up on September 30th. All solar installations will be completed by December 31, 2017.

Tesla introduces subtle solar roof option for homeowners


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Tesla’s solar roof in slate glass. (Tesla)
Jenna Ladd | May 23, 2017

The solar energy market experienced a 97 percent growth in 2016. In total, the U.S. has more than 42 gigawatts of solar energy capacity; that’s enough to power 8.3 million homes.

Tesla CEO Elon Musk is working to win over some U.S. homeowners who may be hesitant to install solar panels because of their bulky appearance. The company is introducing solar cell roof tiles to the market this summer that look just like conventional roofing options. The tiles are made of tempered glass, allowing the sun’s rays to reach solar cells tucked away within them. With four styles available: textured, smooth, tuscan and slate, the tiles are made to please the style-conscious homeowner.

As with many of Tesla’s products, the tiles will be cost-prohibitive for many when they first hit the market. The company estimates they will cost about $22 per square foot if a mixture of solar cell tiles and regular tiles are used and $42 dollars per square foot if only solar cell tiles are used. The company’s website reminds prospective buyers of the 30 percent Solar Investment Tax Credit, which allows consumers to deduct 30 percent of the total cost of installing solar panels from their federal income taxes.

The glass tiles come with a lifetime warranty and can allegedly handle hailstones traveling at 100 miles per hour with ease. Tesla compared this to conventional roof tiles, which shattered under the same conditions. Each tile’s solar cell is guaranteed to last 30 years.

The company started taking preorders in early May. It will begin installing roofs in California this June and complete installations throughout the country in the months that follow.

More LED lighting means lower utility bills for livestock farmers


Nick Fetty | September 16, 2014
Livestock farmers are saving money on utility bills by equipping facilities with LED lighting. (Benny Mazur/Flickr)
Hog farmers are saving money on utility bills by equipping facilities with LED lighting. (Benny Mazur/Flickr)

The increased popularity of energy efficient LED (light emitting diodes) lighting has moved to the farm and livestock farmers are saving on utility bills by embracing this trend.

Hog farmers in Iowa have been particularly quick to adopt the new technology. Washington, Iowa-based Sitler’s Supplies has sold more than 10,000 LED fixture and bulb sets in the past 18 months. This is to help accommodate the utility demands of livestock operations which can have up to 600 lights running for more than 16 hours per day.

A 2010 Oklahoma State University study found that cows produced six percent more milk when raised near LED lighting compared to fluorescent lighting. However a University of Florida scientist claims that the evidence is inconclusive and that “[t]he wavelength of light you get and the whiteness from LED should not have an influence.” This was again debated in a 2014 article from LEDs Magazine which suggests LED lighting will “substantially increase the production of eggs, meat, and other protein sources, while dramatically reducing energy use and other input costs.”

Governmental and private entities have also embraced LED lighting in recent years although at $50-60 per fixture the technology is not yet affordable for some farmers. An LED bulb can have a lifespan of about 80,000 hours which is more than double than of a compact florescent.

Iowa farmers have also been proactive in utilizing other energy efficiency measures such as solar panels, geothermal, and methane gas recovery.

New tax credit make solar a better investment for Iowans


Photo by rob.rudloff, Flickr.

Energy companies and lawmakers say a new tax credit will make the installation of solar energy systems on homes and businesses an affordable investment.

“A lot of people have been looking at solar energy systems and now, with the state tax credits, they’re starting to move forward,” Brad Duggan, energy efficiency project manager at Van Meter Inc. in Cedar Rapids said Tuesday. “It makes solar ripe for the residential use. I think it will push the market.”

The credit, which was signed into law by Gov. Terry Branstad last week, provides state tax credits for solar electric, solar hot water, and geothermal energy systems – allowing homeowners credits of up to $3,000 per project, and $15,000 for businesses.

For more information, read the full article at The Gazette.

Google to purchase solar panels for 3,000 homes


Photo by Earthworm, Flickr.

Google released a statement yesterday announcing that they would attribute $75 million to build solar panels on residential buildings.

Read more from the Associated Press below:

Google wants to buy solar panels for your house.

The search giant announced yesterday that it will provide $75 million to build 3,000 residential solar electricity systems across the country. Google will own the panels, and get paid over time by customers who purchase the electricity the panels produce. Continue reading

Solar industry fears loss of federal finances


Photo by Christine, Flickr

The solar energy industry has experienced quite the boom recently.  Their installations doubled in 2010 and have the potential to do the same in 2011.  However, that kind of growth could come to an end should two important federal programs stop providing some crucial financing.

Solve Climate News reports:

U.S. solar energy installations are poised to double in 2011 for the second year in a row, but the industry could fall short of its lofty, long-term goals for growth if two key federal programs dry up, officials say.

“We are in reach of our goal of installing 10 gigawatts of solar annually by 2015. That’s enough to power more than 2 million homes with clean reliable solar energy each and every year,” Tom Kimbis, vice president of strategy and external affairs for the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), told reporters on a conference call.

“But to reach that goal, Congress needs to make the right investments in solar energy,” he said.

Around 1,800 megawatts of solar power will be installed in the U.S. this year, up from the 887 megawatts installed in 2010, Shayle Kann, managing director of solar research at GTM Research, said on the call.

“This is going to be a time when we see enormous changes … and everything that comes with the maturation of a sector is going to be compressed into a very short period of time over the next year and a half in the U.S.,” Kann added. Continue reading