Randy Phillips

Randy Phillips

I am proud to represent nearly 1,000 IBEW Local 499 members, the men and women that are your neighbors, relatives, and friends, who work hard on behalf of MidAmerican Energy to make sure energy is safely, reliably and efficiently delivered to your home business and community 24/7/365.

As an employee of MidAmerican Energy for more than 44 years, and the business manager of IBEW Local 499 for the past eight years, I’ve had a front-row seat to the impact that our work has in the communities where we live, work and provide service.

Iowa policymakers pursued investment in wind because they could see Iowa’s potential to generate renewable energy from the seemingly constant breezes coming across our fields. They took measures to make Iowa as attractive as it could be for that investment, so we could reap the benefits. MidAmerican Energy’s commitment to 100 percent renewable energy has served as an economic catalyst for our state and has provided jobs to countless Iowans.

But before this renewable dream can become a reality in Iowa, some policy changes are necessary to make sure future growth is achieved in a way that’s fair for all customers.

When someone puts up residential solar panels today, they still use the grid which is all the wires, poles and equipment associated with distributing the electricity. They use the grid all day long – pulling down energy when they need it and pushing excess energy up to the grid when they have a surplus. That’s called net metering. The trouble with Iowa’s net metering policy is that solar users don’t pay for their use of the grid. Instead, that cost is shifted to other customers. That’s a small problem today, but at the rate solar is growing it becomes a big problem down the road that results in higher energy costs for those who can least afford it.

Paying for the electric grid you use is only fair. Traditional customers pay for the grid as part of their monthly energy charge. But private solar generators don’t. Just because they don’t pay for it, doesn’t mean it’s free. Others have to pick up those costs – others like me and all of the other customers who didn’t choose to install solar or who can’t afford it. That’s something I’m thinking about more and more these days as I prepare to retire. I’ll be on a fixed income soon, and every dollar will count. I don’t think it’s right that some of my retirement income will have to go to pay for someone else’s – private solar generators – use of the grid.

The fix is simple: have new solar users pay a small monthly fee for their use of the grid. It’s only fair and it’s not likely to upend investment in residential solar when those projects already receive tax credits worth about half of their up-front costs. That’s what the SOLAR Act (HF669 and SF583) will do. That’s a policy that is not only fair for all of us – but it’s one that is good for solar energy’s future in Iowa too.

By fixing the solar cost shift, Iowa’s utilities will have a far better environment in which to invest in utility-scale solar energy that can be delivered to all customers, not just a few who can afford it. That’s where the real job opportunities arise for my members and for solar installers, electricians and other skilled trade positions. That’s why the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers supports the SOLAR Act (HF669 and SF583).

With the right policies in place, Iowa’s next phase of renewable energy jobs will be in solar, but those direct solar jobs are only the beginning of the opportunity solar holds for Iowa.

With more solar, Iowa can continue to attract big economic development projects across the state that want to be where there is ample, low-cost green power. Those kinds of projects bring massive construction and that construction means thousands of jobs for Iowa’s electrical workers.

It’s a simple equation: fixing the solar cost shift means much more solar -- which brings more solar jobs and a lot more construction jobs.

Let’s take that step for solar by fixing the solar cost shift and paving the way for the next wave of green construction jobs. So please take some time and contact your legislators and let them know you support this bill, a bill that will make solar grow in Iowa and also make it fair to all customers when those of us who don’t have solar are being forced to pay the bill for use of the grid by those who do have solar.

Randy Phillips is business manager for International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 499. The Local, in Des Moines, represents workers for MidAmerican Energy and six R.E.C. Cooperatives in Iowa.

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