Solar Energy Compromise Moves Forward In Iowa House

Feb 21, 2020

A controversial bill that would have allowed utilities to charge extra fees to Iowans with solar panels is being changed to a proposal that almost all stakeholders praised at a subcommittee meeting Thursday.

The original version of the bill pitted MidAmerican Energy against environmental groups and pork producers. The Senate passed it last year, but it did not have enough support to get through the Iowa House of Representatives.

The new compromise puts the state’s policy of net metering into law, which allows solar users to transfer excess energy back to the electrical grid to lower the cost of the energy they sometimes have to buy from the utility. It also protects current solar users from being affected by any future additional fees.

Rep. John Forbes, D-Urbandale, has solar panels on the roof of his pharmacy. He opposed the old version of the bill, and he supports the new one.

“It gives certainty to my system that I had installed about five years ago,” Forbes said. “It makes sure that net metering is preserved here in Iowa so I can now, when I’m doing my budgeting process for my business, I’ll know how much my energy costs will now be going forward.”

When the original version of the bill was being considered, MidAmerican Energy argued they needed to charge solar users additional fees because they’re not paying their fair share for use of the electric grid.

But solar users, the solar industry and environmental groups were concerned the new fees would stifle the growth of solar in Iowa, potentially leading to the loss of jobs and renewable energy options.

The new version of the bill would direct the Iowa Utilities Board to first study solar users’ impact on the grid. That study would begin when solar generates 5 percent of the state’s energy, or in 2027, whichever comes first. Solar makes up less than 1 percent of Iowa’s energy production.

If the study finds solar users aren’t paying their fair share for use of the electric grid, lawmakers could come back and decide to allow for new fees.

“We have got a pathway forward,” said Rep. Gary Carlson, R-Muscatine. “It provides that certainty to the utility companies, and it provides that certainty to the companies that are involved in solar and solar sales and solar installation, and it provides certainty to the consumers. And really those are the partners we need to have together on this issue.”

The three-person subcommittee unanimously advanced the bill. It will likely be officially replaced by the compromise version during a future meeting of the full House Commerce Committee.