Clearing barriers to clean energy

solar_energy_Iowa is a national wind energy leader, solar has been gaining momentum in recent years, and both have significant potential for continued growth in the state. However, to facilitate growth and reap the many environmental, economic and community benefits of clean energy, Iowa must create policies and practices that encourage a transition to clean energy. This includes improving access and removing barriers – two priorities for the Council.

In the past year, Alliant Energy has informed some customers that they would not allow net metering, for third-party purchase agreements, a practical and popular financing option for solar energy projects. Last week, following objections from customers and clean energy advocates including the Council who believed this decision violated the Iowa Supreme Court’s ruling last summer, Alliant informed these customers that is has decided to reverse this decision.

“Without net metering, which lets customers to bank excess power for later use, many of these projects would not be financially viable,” said Energy Program Director Nathaniel Baer. “As a result of this reversal, more Iowans will be able to move forward with solar projects and realize the economic and environmental benefits of solar energy.”

The Council joined coalition partners including the Environmental Law & Policy Center (ELPC), Iowa Solar Energy Trade Association (ISETA), Iowa Interfaith Power & Light (Iowa IPL), Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) and Winneshiek Energy District submitted comments to the Iowa Utilities Board opposing Alliant’s original refusal to net-meter third party purchase agreements earlier this summer.

While this move helped avert a substantial hurdle for many solar energy projects, it’s not the only barrier the Council and its allies have been battling this summer. In June, Pella Cooperative Electric announced it will charge customers with solar panels or other sources of self-generated energy a “facilities fee” of $85 per month – more than three times the $27.50 “facilities fee” for other customers.

Pella Cooperative Electric cites a “cost-of-service study” conducted earlier this year that concluded these customers were not paying their share of the fixed costs of maintaining the grid. This study has been difficult to obtain for review and is unlikely to properly value all of the benefits provided by solar.

Pella’s current $27.50 monthly fee is already high compared to what other utilities in Iowa typically charge, and the $85 fee is extreme. Utilities around the U.S. have been proposing these high fixed charges as one way to stop customers from moving to solar.

Clean energy advocates, including the Council, ELPC, ISETA, Iowa ILP, SEIA, Vote Solar, Bryce Engbers and Mike Lubberden, submitted comments to the Iowa Utilities Board asserting that the decision violates an Iowa Code prohibiting discrimination against a customer based on the customer’s choice to use renewable energy.

“As we continue to make progress for clean energy at the legislature, in rulemaking and the courts, I think we’re going to continue to see these utility efforts to make it more difficult to bring clean energy projects online,” Baer said. “However, support for clean energy in the state is strong, and it is diverse. The more we are able to leverage our collective voice and influence, the more successful we will be in overcoming these obstacles and transitioning to clean energy.”

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