Alliant proposals create barriers for solar energy growth.
BY BARRY SHEAR Eagle Point Solar
As a Dubuque-based solar developer who has completed more than 400 solar projects the past six years, I know that Iowans are looking to invest in economic and sustainable solar energy.
I applaud utilities across the state for diversifying their generation portfolios and investing in more renewable-energy sources to provide customers with what they need and want.
I am proud of Alliant Energy’s local commitment to solar with the pending completion of its two Dubuque solar gardens. Of particular significance is the solar field sited on a brownfield that otherwise would have no commercially viable purpose.
However, while Alliant Energy is publicly sharing news about its solar gardens, I am concerned a pattern of events show a strategic approach to limit consumer choice.
Several Alliant proposals sit before the Iowa Utilities Board, and Iowans should be concerned about the precedent they would set.
Let there be no confusion about Alliant’s (and that of many utilities) perception of customer-owned solar and why this is of concern to them.
Utilities in Iowa are monopolies that have made a habit of generating electricity themselves from a few large power plants. Renewable-energy technologies are readily available to utilities and customers alike, which creates the opportunity for utilities to be part of the energy innovation and Industrial Revolution of the 21st century.
This new energy paradigm will require utilities to evolve their business models from the existing strategy of being generators and transmitters to becoming energy managers, managing thousands of microgrids incorporating energy storage and distributed renewables.
Alliant has proposed new customer classes for both residential and commercial solar customers. Like any form of segregation, this may be the first step toward treating solar customers differently than other customers through higher rates and fees.
Alliant’s Beyond Solar program is also before the state board. The program’s stated goal is to create renewable energy options for people who cannot put solar on their homes.
On the surface, this sounds like a reasonable strategy. If you dig deeper, however, the details are troubling.
The program has unnecessarily high premiums that can significantly worsen the economics of solar for customers.
Participating in the program doesn’t guarantee future solar development by Alliant. Alliant plans to attribute energy generated at the new solar garden (which is being paid for by all Alliant customers) and the Hancock County Wind Farm (almost 10 years old) to Beyond Solar participants.
This is misleading for customers who think their investment is going to spur additional solar development.
These proposals come on the heels of past anti-solar policies from Alliant, including my own Iowa Supreme Court decision in July 2014 relating to Power Purchase Agreements, a contractual mechanism that allows state and local governmental units, schools and other non-taxable entities to effectively monetize the tax incentives available to taxable entities.
This year, Alliant began a net-metering pilot program that created needless barriers and administrative hassles for both Alliant and its customers. It includes a cap on the size of a customer’s solar project that is eligible to net-meter. It’s based on maximum annual demand — information that Alliant does not actually collect or possess for most customers.
This radical net energy metering tariff intentionally forces smaller solar arrays and degrades the economics to customers.
Solar energy benefits both urban and rural Iowa. By the end of 2016, at least 97 of Iowa’s 99 counties have seen solar investment. This creates jobs in an industry that has grown 40 percent in each of the past five years.
I urge Alliant to reconsider its proposals and work collaboratively with customers and industry representatives to find solutions that help grow low-cost renewable energy.