solar array

This is the solar array of 1,344 panels atop the MetroLINK headquarters in Rock Island that opened in 2014. The building was constructed to the LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) gold standard. The panels generate a portion of the electricity needed to power the building and recharge the fleet's three electric buses.

DES MOINES — Matt Edwards wishes the Iowa Legislature’s left hand knew what its right hand was doing.

Edwards was at the Capitol on Wednesday to speak during a pair of subcommittee hearings — one on a plan to double the state solar tax credit and another that would impose fees of about $300 a year on solar customers to cover the cost of their use of the electric grid.

“The irony is not lost on us,” said Edwards, controller at CB Solar, a solar equipment supplier in Des Moines. From his vantage point, House File 476, which would increase the state tax credit from $5 million to $10 million, will help more businesses, farmers and homeowners who want to install solar panels to control utility costs or reduce their carbon footprint.

However, that wouldn’t offset proposed changes in net metering that are moving forward in both House Study Bill 185 and Senate Study Bill 1201, according to Christopher Rants, who lobbies for the Iowa Solar Energy Trade Association.

Those changes will make small-scale solar power generation “economically unfeasible,” he said.

Edwards told lawmakers at a Senate subcommittee meeting that “the math just doesn’t work” for his company’s 10 employees and contractors if legislation is passed that would impose a fee on solar customers.

The utilities companies told lawmakers that customers who are private generators use the grid without paying for it. That leaves other customers to shoulder the cost of building and maintaining the grid. The utilities are advocating a cost-of-service system so everyone using the infrastructure system shares in that cost.

Like a House subcommittee Tuesday, the Senate subcommittee moved the bill to the full Commerce Committee for consideration.

Since the Iowa solar tax credit was established in 2012, it has awarded $26 million in non-refundable credits in support of $211 million of investment — an eight-to-one return on the state’s investment, Rants told the House Ways and Means subcommittee.

HF 476 is “a good bill for solar, but it probably won’t do much” if there’s a “sunshine tax” being sought by utilities and business groups, Edwards said. He called those bills “anti-private generation.”

Erin Murphy contributed to this story.

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