The recently released grid study by the U.S. Department of Energy raises some questions about the reliability of renewable energy and suggests there may be limits on our use of wind and solar. Here in Iowa, we know better.
Since 1916, Farmers Electric Cooperative has provided affordable and reliable electric service to customers and members in eastern Iowa. As the manager of the co-op since 1992, I have a responsibility to ensure the lights turn each time a customer flips the switch. This is not a responsibility I take lightly, and I work to balance the needs of our 605 members with changing energy technology.
Recognizing all the money that was leaving our community to purchase costly and limited energy sources like coal, we began a systematic and mostly self-financed investment in renewable energy in 2008. Today, we are recognized as a national solar energy leader with more than 2250 connected watts of solar energy, about 3.5 KW of local solar per customer/member. This is the most solar per customer of any utility in Iowa, and one of the highest amounts of any utility in the U.S.
Our co-op has been able to grow our renewable energy portfolio without interrupting service or threatening reliability. In fact, a 2015 study from the Iowa Association of Electric Cooperatives found that our co-op had the best reliability indices among Iowa Utilities, and that our System Average Interruption Duration Index (SAIDI) reduced systematically as we integrated renewable energy into the portfolio.
Adding solar energy to our energy portfolio has kept rates affordable for customers because there are no shipping or upkeep costs after the solar is installed. This shields customers from fluctuating import costs associated with older energy sources like natural gas and coal.
Investing in solar energy also provides direct benefit to Iowa and the economy by keeping the dollars local. There are more than 600 jobs supported by the solar industry in Iowa, and at least 47 Iowa businesses involved in the solar energy supply chain. There has been more than $123 million in capital investments in solar energy, which has a ripple effect through the state’s economy.
Iowa has an opportunity to further stake out its position as a national, and global, energy leader because we have just begun to tap our resources. Iowa has the potential to build enough solar PV to meet annual electric needs by more than 50 times over.
With the support of our Iowa leaders and visionary plans like the Iowa Energy Plan, the future looks bright. Iowa already generates more than a third of its energy from renewable sources, while also maintaining rates below the national average. Renewable energy works, and Iowa is better because of it.