The Iowa legislature is moving forward with a bill that runs counter to the interests of Iowans, who have long seen the benefits of renewable energy, and are in a great position to capitalize on the solar revolution now sweeping across much of the country.
Iowa has been a leader in wind energy, and both rooftop solar and ground-mounted solar systems have been gaining ground in recent years. The state has an opportunity to join its neighbors Illinois and Minnesota in lowering electricity costs for their residents by embracing solar. But the bill, HF 669/SF 583, which is quickly moving through the state legislature would limit Iowans’ freedom to choose how they get their energy, drive up electricity costs and cause hundreds of workers to lose their jobs.
The bill’s supporters, led by the monopoly utilities which are trying to keep farmers, homeowners and small businesses from controlling their energy costs, claim that people with solar panels shift costs to those without them, an argument that clean energy opponents have been using for years. Yet, study after study has disproven this argument.
Under Iowa’s current policy, people with solar panels are paid for the extra electricity they produce that’s exported to the grid — just like utilities are. This policy is common in many of the country’s leading clean energy states and it amounts to smarter use of electricity. Why waste electricity that isn’t being used?
But solar panels aren’t just good for the people who have them — they’re good for everybody. Instead of costing people more, homeowners, farmers and businesses with solar often save their neighbors money on their electric bills.
While Iowa surely will need additional grid investments to expand adoption for all forms of renewable energy, rooftop solar is saving consumers significant money — and creating cleaner electricity in the process. Rooftop solar also can lessen the strain on utility equipment like transformers, extending the life of these systems.
It allows utilities to avoid fuel hedging costs created by volatile fossil fuels like coal, which still accounts for 45 percent of Iowa’s electricity use. Power from the sun can avoid the need to build new expensive power plants, or to fire up “peaker” generation plants that drive electricity prices even higher.
This doesn’t even begin to get at the substantial statewide economic benefits that solar energy can provide Iowans, from creating jobs to driving local investment and supporting farmers. Nationwide, the solar industry employs 242,000 workers and is driving billions of dollars of investment into states. Iowa has a chance to benefit more from solar, too, but people need fair policies in place that let them adopt solar if they choose.
We’ve seen what happens in other states, such as Nevada, when policymakers pass anti-solar policy like the bill being considered in Iowa. Solar companies left the state, rooftop solar installments stalled, and 2,600 people lost their jobs. Nevada’s market is surging now, after the Republican governor and legislature reversed the policy — but Iowa doesn’t need to repeat the same mistake.
Monopoly utilities often fight policies that support rooftop solar because they see it as a lost revenue opportunity. But solar helps utilities save money, too. Utilities lobbying for this bill conveniently forget the many positive aspects that solar brings. The fact is that the electric grid is transforming, and that is good for us all.
Like most good things, rooftop solar has both costs and benefits. But when the math is done correctly, the benefits to Iowa’s entire electric system far outweigh the costs. The Iowa legislature should stand up for consumers and jobs and vote no on HF 669/SF 583.
Sean Gallagher is vice president of state affairs of the Washington, D.C.-based Solar Energy Industries Association, which represents dozens of companies based in Iowa, including solar installers, manufacturers, project developers, contractors and financiers.