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The Iowa House and Senate are advancing legislation to allow utilities to impose additional fees on solar customers.
Sponsor of House File 669, Rep. Gary Carlson, has touted that the bill will prevent solar customers from pushing costs onto other customers with low- and fixed-incomes. The bill, however, includes no provisions to reduce costs for lower-income Iowans, rests on inaccuracies about costs already borne by solar customers and ignores community benefits of distributed solar power.
A companion bill, Senate File 583, introduced by Sen. Jake Chapman, passed the Senate March 18 on a vote of 28-19.
Iowa utilities are not struggling. In its annual report to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, MidAmerican Energy, which was involved in drafting this bill, posted a net income in 2018 of $682 million. This represented a 13 percent increase from 2017, in part due to a higher electric utility margin of $122 million. Perhaps this money could have been redirected to reduce costs for lower-income Iowans!
Some utility income has instead been reinvested in the campaigns of state representatives. Both Chapman and Carlson have reported hefty campaign contributions from the utilities, including a combined $13,000 from MidAmerican Energy since September 2018. The utilities have found friends in the chairs of the Senate and House commerce committees, friends willing to advocate for their pet legislation.
These bills unfairly brand small-scale solar energy producers as a burden. My family produces residential solar power. We are familiar with the barriers solar-unfriendly utilities already pose. We encountered several unexpected expenses from our utility demanding unnecessary retrenching and downsizing our installation after it was framed. As an added cost, we pay a higher monthly facilities charge and forfeit a discounted energy rate for geothermal heating and cooling.
When we over-produce, the utility sells the electricity to our neighbors at a much higher rate than we are credited. As an example, in August 2018, we produced 160 percent of the energy that we used and still paid Eastern Iowa Light & Power Cooperative $32.08. In September 2017, we produced 236 percent of what we used and received a 20-cent credit. Sale of our excess electricity, produced at no cost to the utility, can support infrastructure. We already lack a projected break-even point on our investment. These bills would greatly extend any break-even point for others and devastate distributed solar.
Iowa has fostered desirable growth in distributed solar energy. The utilities, which have long held a monopoly on power and boast much greater financial resources and subsequent political connections than the solar industry, seek to seize this new energy reserve to augment revenue and monopolize production. They have invested in the campaigns of our state representatives to score money from the very farmers, small business owners, and everyday citizens who invest in renewable solar energy.
They are doing this under the disingenuous auspices of fairness. It is, of course, the utilities and not Iowans who would reap huge, sustained returns. These bills are not fair. We must speak truth to power and resist this sunshine tax.
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Jess G. Fiedorowicz is a physician-scientist who lives with his family near Iowa City. They have a free-standing 7.5 kW grid-tied solar system that was installed by Iowa Wind and Solar (now Simpleray) out of Fairfield, Iowa.
Read or Share this story: https://www.desmoinesregister.com/story/opinion/columnists/iowa-view/2019/03/21/follow-money-shed-light-proposed-sunshine-tax-solar-power-midamerican-alliant-grid-legislature/3235647002/