Shear: Legislation throws shadow over Iowa solar industry.
BY BARRY SHEAR Eagle Point Solar 6 hrs ago (0)
BY BARRY SHEAR
Eagle Point Solar
Renewable energy has a long history of bipartisan support in Iowa. Early innovative energy policies, like the ones enacted by Gov. Branstad during his first tenure as governor, have set Iowa up to be the energy leader it is today.
This clean energy leadership is under attack by the Iowa Legislature.
Proposed “tax reform” legislation coming out of the state Senate calls for the elimination of the Iowa solar tax credit program by July 1, 2018.
This tax credit program is a case study for how a good tax credit program should work. Capped at a modest $5 million, the Iowa Solar Tax Credit has been utilized in 99 counties and benefits both rural and urban Iowa businesses and residents.
This economic tool has led to more than $166 million in capital investment throughout the state. It also helps support more than 800 jobs in Iowa, which saw the third-fastest growth in solar jobs in the country last year.
The solar industry has also endured months-long debate on Senate File 2311, the utility energy bill. While we were successful at getting some harmful anti-solar provisions removed, the bill is still very bad for Iowa’s clean energy future.
Specific to solar, the bill ends the Iowa Utilities Board oversight of municipal utilities and allows these utilities to economically or contractually discriminate against solar customers.
SF2311 would enable a municipal utility to impose barriers to solar development, which could be as simple as not responding to a customer request to install and connect a solar project.
The only recourse for the solar customer is to challenge the action of the municipal utility in court. This would require a small business or resident to invest time and expense to go to court instead of simply going to the IUB, which has an informal complaint process and subject-matter expertise.
This puts the burden on the solar customer and creates an unfair advantage for the municipal utility to discourage solar development for those that want to grow their own clean energy.
No compelling case was made to allow discrimination against solar customers by municipal utilities, only a promise it wouldn’t happen.
The IUB exists to protect customers from the monopoly power of the utilities. Clear and compelling reasons should have been put forth to strip that impartial IUB protection away. None were given.
This bad legislation could let a municipal utility repeat what Pella REC tried to do to solar customers — charging a flat fee. When solar customers raised a concern with the IUB, Pella withdrew that fee. With no IUB protection, there will be nothing to stop a municipal utility from taking a page from that playbook.
A municipal utility could also change its rate structure to one that is predominantly based on a flat fee, with a small percentage of the bill determined by kilowatt consumption to discourage them from building solar by eliminating any savings they would achieve from installing a solar array.
SF2311 and the pending tax reform bill are bad for Iowa and will threaten jobs and companies in the solar industry like mine. Unfortunately, SF2311 has already passed the House and Senate and now awaits action by Gov. Reynolds.
Please contact your legislators and the governor and ask them to oppose and veto anything that will take Iowa’s clean energy leadership backwards.
To stay an energy leader, Iowa needs to maintain and expand its energy portfolio and provide the needed economic development tools to make it happen.
Shear is chief executive officer of Dubuque-based Eagle Point Solar. His email address is bshear@ eaglepointsolar.com.
BY BARRY SHEAR
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