Step forward for solar energy in Iowa

A proposal that would have hindered access to solar energy has been withdrawn thanks in part to the action of the Council and its allies.

Late Thursday afternoon, Pella Cooperative Electric withdrew a proposal that would have required members with solar panels to pay a fixed charge of $85 month – more than three times the fixed charge for its other members.

Pella Cooperative Electric had cited a “cost-of-service study” conducted earlier this year as the basis for its original proposal. According to the coop, the study concluded members with solar panels were not paying their share of the fixed costs of maintaining the grid. The study, which Pella Cooperative Electric labeled “confidential” and “not subject to distribution”, is unlikely to properly value all of the benefits provided by solar.

“This proposal was never supported by data showing it was needed, in fact, we are confident that solar is bringing value to the coop,” said Energy Program Director Nathaniel Baer. “We hope that this opens the door to a larger discussion of how we can bring more solar to rural electric coops across the state.”

The Council and its allies submitted comments to the Iowa Utilities Board earlier this summer asserting that the proposal violates Iowa Code, which prohibits discrimination against a customer based on the customer’s choice to use renewable energy. These allies include the Environmental Law and Policy Center, Iowa Solar Energy Trade Association, Iowa Interfaith Power & Light, Solar Energy Industries Association, Vote Solar, and Bryce Engbers and Mike Lubberden – two coop members with solar panels.

“Pella Cooperative Electric’s proposed $85 fee was extreme and would have made keeping or installing solar panels infeasible for many of the coop’s members,” Baer said. “Some members ran the numbers and found that despite the savings from the energy their panels produced, the fixed fee would have exceeded those savings, causing them to actually lose money. Utilities around the U.S. have been proposing these unreasonably high fixed charges as one way to stop customers from moving to solar.”

This announcement comes on the heels of Alliant Energy’s recent reversal of its decision to not allow net metering for projects financed with third-party purchase agreements, a practical and popular financing option for solar energy projects. The Council and its allies intervened in this case as well.

We applaud Pella Cooperative Electric and Alliant Energy on their recent decisions to scratch these proposals, and remain committed to continuing to expand and improve access to solar, wind and energy efficiency, and continuing the transition to clean energy in Iowa

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