Debate Over Solar Panels And Utility Charges Heads To House Panel

Des Moines, Iowa (RI) — A bill that would let utilities charge a new fee to Iowans who generate electricity with solar panels on their homes or businesses has cleared its first test in the Iowa House. Julie Vande Hoef, a lobbyist for Alliant Energy, says her company supports the bill’s objective.

People with solar panels buy electricity from a utility when there’s no sunlight AND, when they generate excess electricity, that’s sent onto the grid for other customers. J.D. Davis, a lobbyist for MidAmerican Energy, says maintaining utility infrastructure like power lines is critical to the state.

Critics of the bill say the new fees will eclipse the financial benefits of installing solar panels. Josh Clark of Simpleray, a company based in Fairfield that installs solar panels, says the bill will have “very negative effects” on his firm.

Paul Rekow of Spencer, a member of the Iowa Solar Energy Trade Association, has solar panels on his property.

Many in the solar industry say Iowa farmers are a growing market right now. Drew Mogler, who is from Lester — of the Iowa Pork Producers Association says raising livestock is a low-margin business, so pig farmers are always looking for ways to manage utility costs.

Other critics of the bill urged lawmakers to wait for the Iowa Utilities Board study that’s coming NEXT YEAR about a pilot project examining how much customers with solar panels use their local utility’s power grid. The bill has the support of Iowa Electric Cooperatives, unions with members employed in the building and construction trades as well as some Iowa business groups. Nicole Crain of the Iowa Association of Business and Industry says energy policy is key to ensuring economic growth in the state.

The bill cleared a House subcommittee after a 45-minute public hearing Tuesday morning. It’s now eligible for debate in the House Commerce Committee.