Opponents: Proposal could slow solar growth in Iowa
• BY JEFF MONTGOMERY firstname.lastname@example.org
• Mar 12, 2017
Some local solar array installers and their customers fear a proposal by Alliant Energy could halt the growth of solar energy in Iowa.
The proposal, which would take effect April 1, would change the company’s approach to “net metering,” or how the company compensates customers with solar arrays for energy created.
Under the proposal, larger companies would be eligible for net metering, according to Alliant officials. But the company also could adjust the energy cap at which customers are no longer compensated for energy created.
Businesses or residences that already have solar arrays would not be affected by the proposed changes.
But Jim Pullen, general manager at Eagle Point Solar in Dubuque, argued the changes would discourage the installation of new solar arrays.
“This would change the economics and triple the time it takes for a solar array to pay for itself,” he said. “Instead of paying for itself in five to six years, it would take, on average, 15 to 16 years.”
As April 1 approaches, Eagle Point Solar is among many Iowa companies raising concerns about Alliant’s proposed policy and urging the Iowa Utilities Board not to adopt the proposal.
CHANGE ON THE WAY?
The Iowa Utilities Board sought proposals from both of Iowa’s major utilities — Alliant subsidiary Interstate Power & Light Co. and MidAmerican Energy – that would increase the use of renewable energy in the state.
These proposals, dubbed “experimental tariffs” by the board, would be put in place for three years.
Alliant’s proposal doubles the size of projects that are eligible for net metering from 500 kilowatts to 1 megawatt, making net metering available to larger companies.
However, critics of Alliant’s plan are concerned about how the company would determine when a home or business has met its “net-metering cap,” or the point at which a customer is no longer eligible for compensation.
Justin Foss, spokesman for Alliant Energy, said utility officials believe the net metering cap should be based on a consumer’s demand rather than overall usage. In other words, a home or business should not be compensated for producing solar energy above and beyond what this facility would actually use.
“The point is we want people to right-size their system,” Foss said. “That has the biggest benefit for the power grid.”
Opponents believe this interpretation would reduce the financial viability of installing solar arrays. Officials from Iowa-based solar installer Ideal Energy argued that this formula would reduce the amount of energy that is eligible for net metering by 30 to 40 percent.
Pullen also said Alliant’s tariff could reduce the amount of compensation that consumers receive for each unit of energy produced.
He said this would have a direct impact on how many new arrays are installed.
“Common sense would tell you that this would make it much more difficult for end-customers to justify installing a solar array,” Pullen said. “This would have a dramatic negative impact on Eagle Point Solar and the other installers who have popped up in the state of Iowa.”
Eagle Point Solar currently employs about 30 people, Pullen said. He said he believes this number would decrease if Alliant’s tariff goes through.
“Does it mean we have to let one employee go, or does it mean we have to let 50 percent go? We don’t really know at this point,” Pullen said. “But it will definitely have a negative impact on our ability to keep all of our employees here.”
Dubuque resident Jay Jubeck is among those who are concerned that the proposed tariff would slow local investment in solar energy.
Jubeck said the installation of a solar array is underway at his Dubuque home. Since the project already started, the project would be “grandfathered” and not subject to new rules.
But the changes could affect Jubeck’s desire to install a solar array at his downtown Dubuque business, Jubeck New World Brewing.
Noting that the business “uses a lot of electricity,” Jubeck said he has been in conversations with his landlord about such an installation.
“If this (rule change) comes to pass, I think it would make it less financially viable,” Jubeck said. “I really doubt we would make that investment unless there is a clear financial advantage.”
He speculated that Jubeck New World Brewing would not be the only company to shy away from solar if the economics change.
“Among a lot of businesses, there is this general desire to do the ‘green’ thing,” he said. “But in the end, a lot of things come down to what is cost-effective.”
To voice your opinion on the policy changes go to: http://www.saveiowasolar.org/
Take action to support Iowa’s solar industry by encouraging the Iowa Utilities Board to reconsider net metering rule changes proposed by Alliant Energy.