Solar energy is booming here in Iowa. I am proud to say that Iowa’s solar industry grew by 4 percent last year and the industry supports nearly 1,000 jobs in communities across the state. Less than a quarter of those jobs are driven by utility-scale solar. Private investment is the driving factor of Iowa’s solar growth.
The industry is now at risk. MidAmerican Energy is pushing a new utility energy bill, House File 669. The bill is a blatant attempt to destroy Iowa’s solar industry by harming the economics on solar projects for farmers, businesses and residents. As of now, 86 percent of solar jobs are serving homes and businesses, while only 14 percent are in utility-scale solar. Utility investments in solar cannot and will not make up for the job losses this bill will cause. This bill would essentially make energy customers pay more to maintain the company’s infrastructure while using less energy. This is an illogical and unfair tactic for MidAmerican to keep its monopoly and kill solar jobs.
The bill will make Iowa businesses less competitive, especially Iowa’s manufacturing and supply chain companies that have strict supplier scorecard criteria to meet with companies they hope to do business with both in and outside of Iowa.
Net metering, a policy that credits solar energy system owners for the electricity they add to the grid, is a driver of solar sales. When a solar system produces excess electricity, it goes back onto the grid, serving the needs of neighbors. Net metering also increases demands for solar energy systems, creating jobs for installers and electricians in the ever-growing solar industry. The proposed legislation changes the economics of net metering, so solar installations would no longer make financial sense.
Unfortunately, utility companies such as MidAmerican and Alliant have complete monopolies over their service territory and don’t have to compete for their customers. In the past year, MidAmerican made $600 million-plus in net profits yet claims they don’t have money to cover infrastructure costs.
Due to these monopolies, private solar investment is one of the only ways a farmer, business or resident can control their energy costs and benefit ALL utility customers. Solar customers already pay interconnection fees and a monthly fixed service charge to their utility, whether they pull any energy or not. By investing their own money in solar, customers save the utility from investing in new generating, a cost that would otherwise be paid by all customers. Solar is adding low-cost energy to the grid when it's most expensive, lowering the average cost for everyone. Solar keeps power steady and helps utilities avoid upgrades to lines and transformers, reducing the overall cost of delivering electricity for everyone.
Iowa can’t go backward on solar. Utilities want to monopolize the sun and kill distributed generation, but we must preserve Iowa’s successful policy framework so farmers, businesses and residents continue to have the option to invest in solar energy. Other neighboring states such as Illinois, Minnesota and Kansas have pro-solar policies that are leading in job growth in those states.
I urge Iowa legislators and the governor to protect the rights of farmers, businesses and citizens and to see the true intention of profit-driven utilities.
Rob Hach is president and chief executive officer of Storm Lake, Iowa, based Trusted Energy.